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Learning lessons in the importance of paying attention

By Contributor

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Far North MP Jamie Stone discovers the pit-falls of working remotely.

I had a near-miss recently. Let me tell you how it happened.

Because of Covid, many of us spend some time participating in the work of the House of Commons while remaining in our constituencies. I did this earlier in the year and, because of the lockdown in England, I’m doing it again right now.

When you want to ask a question in the House of Commons you first of all let the Speaker’s Office know that this is your wish. Then what happens is that the MPs’ requesting this have their names pulled out of a kind of electronic hat – and then, if you have been successful, you get an email from “Mr Speaker’s Train Bearer”.

On Tuesday I was allocated question number nine about the Armed Forces helping out during the pandemic.

Number nine? Hmm, that will come quite quick I thought. So at 12.30pm, I was sat facing my iPad screen in jacket and tie and with a poppy in my lapel.

Question number seven came up. I looked at the reflection of myself in the screen. Heavens! I needed to comb my hair!

“Now we go to Scotland – Jamie Stone!” So the Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, introduced me.

“Mr Speaker - greetings from the Far North of Scotland…”

My question went fine. It was about Armed Forces personnel serving overseas and what Covid testing and personal protective equipment they had been receiving.

So that was OK.

Then I crossed the road to Harry Gow’s in Tain and bought myself an egg mayonnaise and salad roll – and immediately after that, bought myself a newspaper in the Co-Op next door.

Back in the office, I looked in my diary. It had me down for question number 59 following the Secretary for State for Health, Matt Hancock’s, statement to the House about the pandemic.

Question number 59? No chance of reaching that. So with only half an ear on what was happening on my iPad, I ate my lunch and read the paper.

“Sir Bernard Jenkin!”

Ah yes, Bernard was going to ask a question, and I returned to my newspaper. But then I thought to myself – “hang on, wasn’t Bernard’s question somewhere in the 40s?”

Hastily, I grabbed my mobile and quickly studied the running order. Heavens above! I was likely to be called in just a few minutes.

My tie? My tie?? Where had I put it? Where was my poppy??

In a flurry of fumbling, I hastily got myself ready and faced the iPad again. This time the deputy speaker, Nigel Evans, was in the chair. Damn it, my hair again! Where had I put the comb?

Good grief! What was my question going to be? And then, thank goodness, it came to me in a flash.

“Clearly I represent a vast and extremely remote constituency.

“In my constituency, there are groups of elderly people who are potentially very vulnerable to the Covid virus.

“Could I ask the Secretary of State when he talks to the Scottish Government to make sure these people are reached out to with the vaccine because it would be too bad if one part of Scotland was to lose out against another as the vaccine is rolled out.”

Phew! A virtual parliament is a godsend in these difficult days, but I’m bound to say that it does bring its own stresses and strains.

Next time I’m chosen for Question number 59, I will most certainly not blithely assume I won’t be called!

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