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Mrs. Fyfe: My point is precisely that a majority of one is enough in any sensible voting system. However, it is

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hardly likely that anyone would want to call a poll if he or she thought that it could be so close. To maintain peace and decency in civil society, one would want to ensure that the outcome was pretty clear one way or the other.

Throughout the debate, some Unionist Members have argued that people were deceived into voting 71 per cent. in favour of the agreement. If the people of Northern Ireland do not yet understand the consequences of voting one way or the other, they must be brain dead, as Northern Ireland has for a long time been one of the most thoroughly debated aspects of politics in these islands.

I earnestly warn people not to set up any fancy franchise. Such a franchise in 1979 did great harm to relations between Scotland and England; it led Scottish people to distrust people in England and was constantly held up as a reason not to vote Labour. If hon. Members are held responsible for a fancy franchise, they will risk incurring the resentment of people who are unhappy with the outcome for years to come.

Mr. McGrady: I draw the attention of the Committee to the agreement, which is absolutely clear about what is intended and, therefore, about what has been agreed.

On page 2 of the agreement, under the heading "Constitutional Issues" there are several paragraphs that comment generally on the subject matter and use the same terminology, stating that the status of Northern Ireland will be maintained

That is the general interpretation of that expression. On the next page, we see that the parties and the two Governments making the agreement have specifically laid down the legislative terminology to which they would agree in terms of amendments to be made. Under the heading "Annex A: Draft Clauses/Schedules for Incorporation in British Legislation", the agreed form of words is:

    "It is hereby declared that Northern Ireland in its entirety remains part of the United Kingdom and shall not cease to be so without the consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland voting in a poll held for the purposes of this section in accordance with Schedule 1."

Mr. John D. Taylor: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. McGrady: Let me make my second point. Paragraph 1(2) under that heading states:

That refers to the previous paragraph, which refers to those

    "voting in a poll held".

Therefore I would argue and submit to the Committee that that is precisely what is intended by the agreeing parties and the two Governments to be included in British legislation. There is no ambiguity whatsoever about what was agreed.

Mr. Taylor: I put to the hon. Gentleman the same point that I raised earlier. He has quoted annexe A paragraph 1 quite correctly. It states:

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    If there are 1.6 million people in Northern Ireland, what would be a simple majority?

Mr. McGrady: A simple majority in any interpretation of the English language is more than 50 per cent.

Mr. Taylor: So, 800,000 plus one.

Mr. McGrady: I am not here to define what the number will be under the electoral roll several years hence. I have no idea what it will be. I am saying simply that the agreement reached between the two Governments and the eight other parties referred to a majority voting in a poll. That is the precise terminology that we are dealing with in the Bill and there can be no variation from it if the agreement is to be upheld, as I sincerely hope that the Committee will do.

Rev. Ian Paisley: The Governments who have been handling this situation have always told the people of Northern Ireland that there is no change. They refer us to the Sunningdale agreement, which they have trotted out over and over again, and which states:

Then we turn to the Anglo-Irish agreement, because we are told that the Belfast agreement is a development of that. The Anglo-Irish agreement states:

    "the two governments--Affirm that any change in the status of Northern Ireland with the consent of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland".

That has been repeated over and over again by the Governments, but now we are not getting the majority of the people of Northern Ireland; we are getting the majority of those who take part in a poll, which is entirely different.

Mr. McNamara: Nonsense.

Rev. Ian Paisley: It is entirely different. The hon. Gentleman appears not to know the difference between the majority of people living in England and the majority of people who vote in an election or a referendum.

Mr. McGrady: Surely the hon. Gentleman is making the assumption that those who do not vote are, by not voting, expressing their views one way or the other. That is an impossible situation. Does the hon. Gentleman not recognise that a vote can be interpreted only according to those saying yes and those saying no when voting on a particular for-or-against issue?

Rev. Ian Paisley: It is interesting to hear that comment now from the hon. Gentleman. When it came to the Sunningdale agreement, he told us, "You Unionists needn't worry; it rests with the majority." In the first referendum in Scotland--one hon. Member opposed it completely and said that he did not like what happened--a majority of people in the entire electorate were required to vote for devolution. That is what is in our amendment. [Interruption.]

The First Deputy Chairman: Order. There is so much background noise that I cannot hear what the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) is saying.

Rev. Ian Paisley: I was beginning to think that you would not profit if you could hear what I was saying, Mr. Martin.

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This point has been laboured tonight, but it is an important issue. The Government must tell the people of Northern Ireland what they are saying now. They now claim that, in a poll--elected representatives will have no say about when it should be held--a simple majority of one could put us into a United Ireland, with no mention of safeguards for anyone. That is the real issue.

10 pm

Mr. Paul Murphy: It has been another interesting debate. Hon. Members who argue the case for the amendments--as they did for the last group--suggest that, if a bare majority of people voted in a referendum to become part of a united Ireland, it would plunge Northern Ireland into chaos and anarchy. Of course there are safeguards. To clarify an issue that raised its head in the previous debate, according to clause 1, the Secretary of State must come to the House after such a poll is held. I have now discovered something else lurking in clause 77(3) and schedule 1. In order for the mechanics of that poll to be agreed by Parliament, there would be an opportunity--I apologise to the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) if I misinterpreted his remarks--for both Houses to review the Secretary of State's decision if it were judged rash and ill-defined and if it was believed that a border poll was being held without basis in reason or common sense. I have not the slightest doubt that hon. Members in this and the other place would point that out during such a debate.

Why do we resist the amendments? In the first instance, it is because they contradict what is in the agreement. The agreement is clear: we are talking about a majority of those who vote. The word "majority" is used in other contexts, but it is defined in clause 1: it is a majority of those who vote. I cannot see any other way of doing it.

During the talks, there was barely a mention of a weighted majority. Many hon. Members present in the Chamber tonight would not be here if they had to rely on weighted majorities; many hon. Members would love to have a majority of 50 per cent. plus one. Several hon. Members have referred to the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973, which refers to a majority of people voting in a border poll. Border polls have been held before, but there was no mention in the 1973 Act of a weighted majority of 60 or 70 per cent. It refers only to a majority of people in Northern Ireland, and many hon. Members, including the hon. Member for North Antrim, supported that idea.

Hon. Members have mentioned the 1978 experience, which placed into Acts of Parliament reference to a majority of those on the electoral register. I remember the occasion very well. My predecessor in my constituency was instrumental, with Mr. Cunningham, in drawing up the amendments that the House of Commons had to agree in order to pass the devolution package. In my inexperienced days when I was in my 20s, I supported such a move--I was not a Member of Parliament--although, in hindsight, I was wrong. It left in Scotland a legacy of bitterness that has lasted until this day because people felt that they had been cheated out of the result.

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How else could we have determined, in the recent referendums in Wales, Scotland and London, whether people wanted change other than by how the majority of those who came out to vote, voted? We do not know how those who stayed at home would have voted. We can only make assumptions, but we cannot go by assumptions. We can make judgments only from the majority vote of those who vote in the polls.

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