AT Westminster yesterday, Boris Johnson announced that a public inquiry into the handling of the Covid crisis would begin next spring. Labour opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer had an inquiry: Why? Why wait so long?

But, told that there was probably more pandemic palaver to come in winter, and that it would be unwise to weigh down frontline staff with questions, Sir Keir promised that, despite some reservations, his party would be as helpful as it could.

The Prime Minister’s updates on Covid are not occasions for too much disunity. It was really only the Nats who introduced a sour note, though Boris took a noticeably less hysterical approach in return, even correcting himself when he said “Scottish Nationalist (sic) Party”.

Kirsten Oswald, the SNP’s deputy Westminster leader – wearing one of those massive scarves that female politicians go in for (a peshwari, I think it’s called) – called on the PM not to end the furlough scheme and the £20 Universal Credit uplift, and to outlaw “fire and rehire”. Boris considered each of these questions carefully, and decided not to answer them, but to gibber instead about going “from jabs, jabs, jabs to jobs, jobs jobs”.

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Alan Brown (SNP) complained about “the billyins of pounds of PPE contracts awarded to Tory chums”, and Dave Doogan (SNP) questioned what would happen when the devolved administrations and Westminster differed in their approaches to, say, international travel. “How is compromise in that scenario reached that isn’t simply England’s way or the highway?” he asked.

Normally, thus goaded, you’d expect Boris to go off on one about ripping, tearing, plucking and yanking Scotland out of the UK, but he merely responded gently about the great levels of co-operation shown during the crisis, despite the occasionally “accentuated” political difference.

Beyond that, he repeatedly referred to “our whole United Kingdom” and “team UK”, and basked in the plaudits of his English backbenchers. Suzanne Webb said that on his recent visit to her Stourbridge constituency, “horns were honked”. It was unclear whether she was speaking metaphorically.

Jonathan Guills, meanwhile, informed the House that he had had a pint in one pub and then another one in another pub. Astonishing.

HeraldScotland: Michael GoveMichael Gove

Back to less matey matters, and Mr Johnson promised that his “right honourable friend, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster”, better known in Scotland as “wee Govey”, would be speaking to the devolved colonies about the inquiry.

Fancy titles brings us to Lord McFall of Alcuith (Lab till now), 76, who was even then being lowered into the Speaker’s chair over in yon House of Lords. I hadn’t seen the Lords for some time but, on the telly at least, it looked like it had gone downhill.

McFall sat like a little pixie on a big dias covered in a scruffy-looking burgundy throw. A couple of officials nearby sat on similarly dowdy boxes, and two more individuals crouched more or less on the floor. It looked like a scene from a student flat.

The occasion was not just an opportunity to welcome the new Lords Speaker but for fulsome praise to be paid to his predecessor, Lord Fowler, 83, a former Tory minister who will henceforth sit on the Lords crossbenches. His fairness and passionate campaigning on behalf of HIV/AIDS sufferers was lauded on all sides.

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He replied: “I must say had I known this was the collective view I might not have stepped down so early.” Lord Newby (Lib Dem) spoke of “the tea, the charm and the chat” offered in his “palatial office”. Oh, and he and his deputies were not averse to a bit of gossip. Load of fishwives, really.

Newby added: “The job of the Lords Speaker exemplifies the British constitution.” That’s right. Nobody knows what it is.

Still, said Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (leader of the Lords), at least McFall, as former deputy speaker, knew the “idiosyncrasies” of the House. Well, that’s one word for them.

Listeners to proceedings may have winced at McFall’s harsh calling out of names, among the honeyed accents of England’s upper echelons. When it came to his own turn to speak, he said of his predecessor, in a deadpan, Rev IM Jolly voice: “What a joy it is to see him here today.”

When he went on to say, “The two hallmarks of an effective speaker is …” I was just hoping he wasn’t going to add: “I have came here today …” Sometimes we Scots, with our appalling grammar, are such parodies of ourselves.

That said, is it possible that Westminster is becoming a parody of Holyrood? The latter’s main achievements over the years, admittedly with limited powers, have involved banning fags and putting up the price of booze. Boris’s new programme, announced in the Queen’s Speech, seems largely to involve tackling junk food, starting a plastic bottle return scheme, and the mandatory microchipping of cats. There is no truth in the rumour that the last-named is the brainchild of Jacob Rees-Moggie.

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