HC Deb 16 March 1988 vol 129 cc1098-100
14. Mr. Forth

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what information he has on research into the likely effect of the community charge on voting turnout at local elections.

Mr. Howard

A recent NOP opinion poll found that nearly a quarter of those surveyed said they would be more likely to vote in local elections when the community charge is introduced. That is a clear sign that our proposals will revitalise local democracy and lead to improved accountability.

Mr. Forth

I am encouraged by my hon. and learned Friend's reply. Does he agree that when voters receive the bill through their doors their minds will be concentrated wonderfully? Is he not optimistic that the long-broken relationship between representation and taxation will at long last be re-established under his community charge proposals?

Mr. Howard

Yes, my hon. Friend is right. I believe that that is what accounts for the panic and hysteria with which the Opposition greet our proposals.

Mr. Andrew Welsh

Does the Minister agree that it will be in the implementation of the poll tax that the first signs of its effects will be seen? Is he aware of the answer given me by the Scottish Office, showing that, far from the expected increase in electorates over the next two years, this year there has been a fall in the electoral rolls in 52 of the 72 Scottish constituencies? In particular, all but one of the city constituencies have fewer voters registered. Are not those the first signs of the effects of the poll tax?

Mr. Howard

No, they are not. I listened to the responsible officer for Strathclyde, who, in an interview on the radio, attributed the fall in registration for electoral purposes to the fact that those such as students, who are entitled to register at two addresses, are now registering at one rather than two. That cannot be attributed to the community charge, nor is it in any sense a sign that people will be less likely to register on the electoral roll.

Mr. Cormack

With regard to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth), is not the historic slogan, "No taxation without representation," rather than the other way round?

Mr. Howard

All aspects of these matters must be considered, and the essence of the point was that put by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth).

Mr. Doran

Is the Minister aware that in my constituency of Aberdeen, South, 63,000 electors were registered at the June 1987 election, but in the draft register published in December that figure had fallen to 58,000? Can he explain where the 5.000 went?

Mr. Howard

A number of factors could account for that. I referred to one earlier. There is also a known tendency for fewer people to register after a general election than before it.

Mr. Baldry

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that it is common sense that more people will be encouraged to vote after the introduction of the community charge because they will wish to hold their local authorities accountable to them? Does he not think that those who vote will be more inclined to vote for candidates and parties that are prudent and efficient than for those that are profligate and wasteful?

Mr. Howard

My hon. Friend is quite right. I cannot believe that anyone in the House takes any comfort from the fact that in the last local elections fewer than half the electorate bothered to vote in elections in the metropolitan districts. That is intolerable. One of the great advantages of the community charge is that it will go a long way towards remedying that.