Westminster diary: Some dates but not others

The UK Supreme Court, and the Conservative leadership hustings in Carlisle in June 2019. Credit: PA

Parliament is now in recess for the summer, while the final two in the Conservative leadership contest continue battle, with the winner to be announced on 5 September.

Already in the diary for whoever becomes Prime Minister is the 11 and 12 October - when the Supreme Court will hear arguments over whether the Scottish Government can hold another independence referendum without the UK Government's consent.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has pencilled in 19 October 2023 for a vote, and argues that people north of the border should have the right to decide their own futures.

UK ministers argue the Scottish Parliament does not have the powers to legislate for a referendum.

Neither Rishi Sunak nor Liz Truss is likely to deviate from that position when they enter Downing Street, so the Supreme Court judges will shape what happens next in this constitutional showdown.

There is no regional date for the diary when it comes to the Conservative leadership hustings.

Mr Sunak and Ms Truss are off round the country to face questions from party members over the next few weeks.

The Scottish hustings is in Perth on 16 August, and then they will be in Manchester on 19 August.

There was an event in Carlisle during the 2019 contest, but not this time - which is a bold move from party bosses, given the tough time the Tories had in Cumbria at the local elections in May.

After Green MP Caroline Lucas' unsuccessful attempt to get the West Cumbria coal mine controversy onto the Conservative leadership race agenda last week, Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey tried the same this week.

He wrote to the remaining contenders, urging them to commit to blocking the project at Whitehaven.

On Monday he said: “It’s mind-blowing that Conservative leadership candidates are dragging their feet on committing to climate change action while Britain faces a record heatwave."

There were five MPs left in the contest at the time, and we asked all of them for a response.

We received one only from Liz Truss' team, which said she is "committed to reaching Net Zero by 2050... she would do a review to look at the most economically efficient way of getting there. We won't be commenting on specific local cases."

Without a hustings event in Cumbria, it may be difficult to get either Ms Truss or Mr Sunak to elaborate during this contest.

Lib Dem MP for Westmorland & Lonsdale Tim Farron has long been pushing for a crackdown on excessive second home ownership in the South Lakes and beyond.

On Tuesday, he tried to amend the government's Levelling Up Bill to make holiday lets a separate category of planning use, so councils could place limits on numbers.

He told us he was "very disappointed" after Conservative MPs on the bill committee voted it down, but said he would try again in the coming months.

The government said they have "already taken action...by closing tax loopholes and introducing higher rates of stamp duty", and are introducing powers to allow local authorities to increase council tax on second homes.

This week Labour also pledged to introduce a licensing scheme for holiday lets, if they get into government.

They said it would help target second homeowners who leave properties empty, and protect rural and coastal communities.

So there is clearly more attention being paid to these issues, though so far without the kind of government action Mr Farron is looking for.

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