No forecasts of the numbers on the electoral register are prepared. The projected population aged 17 and over shows an increase of 0·16 per cent. between 1988 and 1989.
Is there not a considerable danger that, due to the operation of the poll tax in Scotland, the franchise will be considerably reduced, either in the coming year or by 1990, when the tax will begin to bite? In those circumstances, clearly there is a case for repealing the legislation, otherwise a future Government may have to introduce a Re-enfranchisement of the People Act.
No, I cannot accept that suggestion. On the basis of the population projections, a slight increase of about 11,000, or 0·28 per cent., might have been expected. The actual numbers show a fall of about 27,500, or 0·69 per cent. As to the reasons, no definite information is available on what part of that reduction might be attributable to any one factor, such as changes in practice by electoral registration officers or the removal of dual registrations.
Can my hon. Friend explain what percentage of the Scottish electorate vote in local elections, and can he say what effect, if any, the community charge will have on voting patterns?
The hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing) asks me what exactly is the figure. To the best of my knowledge, it is less than 50 per cent.
This question relates directly to the electoral roll, and it is vitally important that it is kept separate from the community charge register; that it is separately prepared and maintained. That is the crux of the matter.