Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 240 - 259)

WEDNESDAY 27 JANUARY 1999

MRS JANET TREWSDALE and DR PAUL GORECKI

  240.  All I wanted to know was whether there was any research which had been done which was academically respectable?
  (Dr Gorecki)  The general way in which migration statistics are recorded is medical health records, when you move and you switch your doctor, but I do not think it has been used extensively.

  241.  My question is not a qualitative one, I just want to know whether there has been any research. My next question, because, again, I must be personal, I was Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department of Education and Science here when the issue of student loans was first being looked at, and the policy was not, in fact, carried out while I was Parliamentary Secretary. I was obviously given information about working-class attitudes to debt, and we obviously had detailed data on higher education by social class, and percentages. I have no difficulty in understanding the conventional wisdom about working-class attitude to debt, or disadvantaged attitude to debt, to which you were making reference in Northern Ireland, but, again, has there been any hard research, and I am now talking over the last 15 years, as against conventional wisdom?
  (Mrs Trewsdale)  Again, not to my knowledge.

  242.  If there is, it is presumably in Dearing?
  (Mrs Trewsdale)  In Dearing, yes, and the previous Chairman of the Economic Council, Sir George Quigley, was, in fact, part of the Dearing—but we can certainly check for you.

  243.  Again, the answer can come back in writing.
  (Mrs Trewsdale)  Yes, we will check.

  244.  You mentioned that there was a deficit of about 4,000 places in Northern Ireland, in higher education, which was then sustained largely by people going to Scottish universities, and you quoted on the effect of recent events. What are the comparative figures between students from the Republic of Ireland taking up places in Northern Ireland institutions of higher education, and the comparable return, return is the wrong word, the comparable figure for Northern Ireland students going to places of higher education in the Republic?
  (Mrs Trewsdale)  Again, I do not know of any direct data available at the moment. We can look that up for you. I can give you an apocryphal story on that one, in that I understand, having listened to some of my colleagues, particularly in the Faculty of Science, that they are saying that the actual applications from students from the Republic of Ireland are down, this is for, of course, the next academic year where the applications are actually down, but that is purely apocryphal.

  245.  I am just interested, if there is any data, and I would be quite surprised if there was not, because of the fee implications in both directions, it would be quite interesting to know whether there are figures for the last five years, because it has a separate impact on your deficit figure of 4,000 places?
  (Mrs Trewsdale)  Yes. We can certainly check. I would imagine both the universities would carry data on, certainly, people coming from . . .
  (Dr Gorecki)  Yes. You would have expected, actually, people in the Republic of Ireland probably to decrease because of the exchange rate between——

  246.  There will be, obviously, a number of different reasons. You mentioned, in your covering letter, and now I am off the higher education subject, that the Council has not itself conducted research on the operation of the Fair Employment Act, and that has come out in a number of the other answers you have given. How far do you reckon that we can rest on the research which has been done, both by CCRU and SACHR; do you reckon that that research is actually enough for us to be able to have confidence and trust in the ground being solid under our feet?
  (Mrs Trewsdale)  Certainly, it is fairly extensive research, is it not?

  247.  It is.
  (Mrs Trewsdale)  And they had a specific brief, the researchers under SACHR had a specific brief. You may wish to widen your reading a little further and perhaps, indeed, look at some of the academic papers that have been written, which have not necessarily been commissioned.

  248.  If you can address our minds to those, if you can address our eyes to those, then that would be helpful in itself?
  (Mrs Trewsdale)  You would just like a brief bibliography?

  249.  A bibliography, that would be grand; that is very kind.
  (Mrs Trewsdale)  This would be what is classified as independent research, as opposed to, as I say, being commissioned, as indeed the SACHR or the CCRU.

  250.  Yes; it has the virtue of providing us with a different perspective.
  (Mrs Trewsdale)  Yes.

Chairman:  In order not to save my voice but to save your listening to it, Mr Hesford, I think you have one last question you would like to ask.

Mr Hesford

  251.  Yes. Can I apologise for nipping out before. I know you have been waiting for me to return to the topic I was asking you about, so here I am. Is there any evidence about the extent to which fair employment legislation has retarded economic growth, acting as a sort of disincentive to inward investment, by firms or other institutions, to Northern Ireland?
  (Mrs Trewsdale)  Do you mean evidence as in somebody has actually said "We are not coming into Northern Ireland because of the fair employment legislation"?

  252.  Yes; or within indigenous firms, "We're not expanding because we don't like the circumstances", because of fair employment legislation?
  (Dr Gorecki)  I do not think there is any research being done which investigates that issue at all.

  253.  If you are able, what would your gut feel be to those (a) and (b)——
  (Mrs Trewsdale)  I do not think we actually have a gut to feel, in this sense, because I think the response possibly that you got from the CBI, the CBI Northern Ireland, would have a much better idea, in the sense that they are in contact with employers and with firms. I am sorry, I really do not think we can answer that one, in that we have not——

  254.  The CBI, from memory, Chair, on this aspect, or sort of analogous aspect, spoke in quite positive terms about fair employment?
  (Mrs Trewsdale)  That is what I mean. Again, if I remember rightly, Mrs Stewart could not be precise, she could not give you numbers.

  255.  You have seen Mrs Stewart's evidence?
  (Mrs Trewsdale)  Yes; and so that is why I am suggesting to you that I think that is definitely the best that you can hope for. I am sorry, but we are not employers, in that sense.

Chairman

  256.  Mr Hesford has just referred to Mrs Stewart's evidence, and you have already indicated you have seen Sir Robert Cooper's evidence to us, which was obviously very comprehensive. I did raise with him the question of contract compliance and whether it had a role in tackling the unemployment differential between the communities, and do you have a view on that subject?
  (Mrs Trewsdale)  We have a sort of, I think, limited view, but, again, it would be based on economic theory rather than necessarily on an opinion of the Council, in that it can prove to be very restrictive, in the sense of imposing additional criteria on employers, and why only do it within the public sector, why, necessarily, apply it there; in terms of straight economic theory, one would argue, why pick on that, why pick on fair employment, in terms of contract compliance, why not pick on something else and perhaps, potentially, prosecute under some other, in a specific term, bankruptcy, and one of the directors is bankrupt. Contract compliance, although it may seem to be logical and fair in a social sense, perhaps in straight economics does not make economic sense, I think that would be the simplest way. We could sit and go into pros and cons and pros and cons, but I think that is the basic premise that we would be coming from. Would that be right, Paul?
  (Dr Gorecki)  There are penalties and remedies, under the existing fair employment legislation, so the implication is that those are insufficient or inadequate and they have to be supplemented in some way by contract compliance. And, as the Chairman has already suggested, the incidence of that will vary, depending upon the degree to which the firm, is involved with the public sector; and, presumably, when the court is making an award against the firm they will not be aware, or maybe they will be aware, of the degree to which contract compliance kicks in. So it is a difficult issue; it also makes it more difficult, it may result, particularly if it is an industry with a small number of producers and one or two of them are unable to bid on a contract, you may end up in the situation in which you only have one or two people to bid on the contract, and so public expenditure may go up because you have to pay a higher price for the particular good or service. I think there are a whole series of practical issues about implementing it, how long will it last, which make it, I think, a very problematic way of trying to secure greater compliance with the law; if you do not have compliance with the law, I would have thought the best way to do it is to have the appropriate penalties or remedies at the point at which the firm is found guilty of an offence against the law.

  257.  You may think you have been asked this question ad nauseam already, but, in view of the fact that you think the Government may be being oversanguine about proposed policies reducing the differential, are there additional measures that you think actually ought to have been taken?
  (Mrs Trewsdale)  The differential; you mean the unemployment differential?

  258.  Yes.
  (Mrs Trewsdale)  Additional measures. If we are going to actually get into the nitty-gritty, we have a slight problem with when you actually measure the differential, in the sense of how you measure it.

  259.  I am glad I asked the question.
  (Mrs Trewsdale)  You are talking about ratios and per cent, and we would start to argue that you can look at it in two different ways, which is the ratios or the percentage point difference, and one can show that by reducing unemployment, long-term, or, indeed, short-term, but, if you take long-term unemployment, if the probability of a Roman Catholic and a Protestant getting a job is equal, say, 0.5, you can actually reduce the percentage point difference while still maintaining the ratio as 2 to 1, but the actual number of people unemployed has fallen and fallen more in the case of the Roman Catholic community than the Protestant community. I have got a diagram here that I can give you. I do not want to bore you with the statistics. But, when looking at ratios, you have to be very careful, I think you also have to look at absolutes as well, and——


 
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