Lord Clark of Windermere (Lab) [V]
My Lords, as this House debates parliamentary boundaries, it is important to come back to the fact that democracy is more than just voting. It is about living together in harmony and fairness, with respect for other minority viewpoints and tolerance of the opinion of others. Democracy in Britain is under challenge today as never before. I think of the growth of social media. The noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, described this very graphically as “social media lynch mobs”; it is a truth, as well as a non-truth. There is an increasing feeling of alienation in many areas of this country. There is an emergence of anti-democratic, right-wing parties that are actually opposing democracy. We see that manifested in lower turnouts. I view the Bill against that background.
Living in Cumbria, I see—and agree with—the arguments advanced earlier by my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours. Physical boundaries, such as mountains and lack of road access, clearly need more stringent examination and should, generally, not be a factor where new constituencies emerge.
Democracy is a qualitative, as well as a quantitative, institution. I am, therefore, very much in favour of retaining 650 members. That allows citizens to feel more comfortable in their community and constituency. However, I am concerned about the strict 5% limit. It should be extended—certainly to 7.5% in extreme cases.
Lastly, our very constitution is based upon the supremacy and sovereignty of Parliament. Therefore, I am not exactly happy about removing Parliament’s final vote on the construction and position of parliamentary boundaries. It is a denial of our basic constitutional premise and I am not happy about it being passed to unelected officials.