I expect to meet Mr. Collins shortly to discuss a number of important issues that were on the agenda of the postponed Intergovernmental Conference on 31 January.
When my right hon. Friend next meets Ministers of the Republic will he express the disillusionment felt by many people about the Anglo-Irish Agreement—a one-way road if ever there was one? Will he also express the significance that many people see in the fact that all constitutional parties in Northern Ireland now look for the end of direct rule?
It would be a little hypocritical of me to express precisely the views of which my hon. Friend speaks, as I find the Anglo-Irish Agreement an extremely good vehicle for the conduct of business between Irish Ministers and me. As to his question, I have noted—as I am sure many hon. Members have—the results of the Belfast Telegraph poll.
Has the disgraceful matter of the delay in holding inquests in the north of Ireland been raised in discussions with Irish Ministers? I know that the Secretary of State, as a man of compassion, will understand the suffering and distress that the delay causes the bereaved families. Will he extend those discussions with the Irish Government and his colleagues to ensure that inquests are held within a reasonable period, that Northern Ireland inquests have the right to bring in verdicts not findings and that all material witnesses can be compelled to attend and give evidence?
I have, on past occasions, discussed inquests with Irish Ministers. I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, although I do not know that the Government would wish to be involved in advancing each of his proposals.
Does the Secretary of State find it strange that there was no problem yesterday in suspending the meeting between Ministers from London and Dublin to save the Eire budget, yet it appears impossible for the Government to suspend the Anglo-Irish Agreement to save the lives of people in Northern Ireland?
I understand that the conference was cancelled yesterday because of pairing difficulties in the Dail. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State and I are both former pairing Whips and thus have sympathy with that problem. I once brought the present Foreign Secretary home from Nepal for a vote that we won by 262–0. It made so deep an impression on him that he included it in his latest novel, although he reduced the majority to 17, thus proving again that truth is stranger than fiction.
Before coming to the House today, I inquired whether the Irish Government, through the secretariat, had raised that matter since my hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces answered a written question on Tuesday. I understand that the Irish Government have not, so far, raised that matter, but I shall be meeting Irish Ministers again in the future, when it may arise.
When my right hon. Friend next meets Mr. Collins and his colleagues, will he tell them that, contrary to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter), a great majority of hon. Members, especially Conservative Members, still believe in the Anglo-Irish Agreement? Will he also tell them that a great majority of Members support everything that he is doing to try to bring devolution to Northern Ireland, as that will be in the interests of its people and will give them greater local power?
As one former Whip to another, I wish to ask a question of the Secretary of State that will show that truth is, indeed, stranger than fiction. When the right hon. Gentleman next discusses economic matters with his Irish counterparts, will he confirm that when Shorts was privatised the Government retained ownership of four leasing companies? Will he give the reasons for doing so? Was it because of taxation or was it because Bombardier refused to accept any potential loss on those leases? Is any employee of the four leasing companies retained by the Government also working for the newly privatised Shorts company?
The points about Shorts to which the hon. Gentleman referred were part of the original negotiations and arrangements. In the context of the leasing companies, it was not easy to calibrate the consequences. Shorts Brothers, under Bombardier's ownership, has an agreement with the Government for the management of those arrangements, which were built into the deal that we made.