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House of Commons

Monday 28 November 1988

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]

Oral Answers to Questions


Transport Studies (London)

1. Ms. Abbott : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will list the different studies he has sponsored into transport proposals and problems in London ; and what is their expected final cost.

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Paul Channon) : As the list is a long one, I shall arrange for the information to be published in the Official Report.

Ms. Abbott : Does the Secretary of State agree that there has been considerable criticism of the reports by professional organisations, including the Institution of Civil Engineers? Will he accept that, far from hatching plans to build more roads, in London, he should be considering the real concerns of the population of London--homes before roads, and safety before profit?

Mr. Channon : I think that the hon. Lady is referring to the assessment studies that are taking place in some parts of the capital. My aim for transport in London in general is to promote efficient and attractive public transport, better parking controls, new technology, trunk roads to take traffic round London and to support local authorities' road programmes. I do not think that anything will cut against the general thrust of that policy.

Mr. Higgins : Is my right hon. Friend aware that traffic problems in London were much better dealt with when they came under the direct authority of the Department of Transport? Given the real problems arising from bus lanes, coaches parking on roads and the appalling so-called traffic management schemes that were introduced at the Aldwych by the GLC, is it not high time that my right hon. Friend resumed responsibility for London transport?

Mr. Channon : I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his constructive suggestion. Unfortunately, to implement it would require primary legislation. I have a suspicion that it would not exactly be non- controversial and might be rather difficult to get through the House. I have some sympathy, however, with what my right hon. Friend says.

Mr. Fraser : Does the Secretary of State travel on public transport in London? If so, does he not realise that massive public investment, without greed as a motive, is necessary if London is not to grind to a halt?

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Mr. Channon : I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the need for massive investment. I am sure that he has noted with satisfaction the massive investment that has been provided under this Government, both for London Underground and British Rail. In real terms, the investment has been considerably higher than anything that was achieved when he and his right hon. and hon. Friends had anything to do with these matters.

Mr. Harry Greenway : Does my right hon. Friend agree that unless public and private transport continue to go through London at an adequate pace, industry will come to a stop, jobs will be lost and the entire metropolis will grind to a halt? Will he undertake to ensure that every measure possible is taken to get transport moving more quickly?

Mr. Channon : I shall do my best to achieve that. I am sure my hon. Friend agrees that, if we are to achieve what he has in mind, it is essential to provide better public transport in London. Also, I am sure he welcomes the fact that investment in London Underground is now 60 per cent. higher in real terms than it ever was under the GLC.

Mr. Prescott : Is the Secretary of State aware that, following various studies on safety within the London Transport system, reports continue to be made on fires, escalator breakdowns and inadequate safety procedures? Will he justify to the House his view, which was expressed to me in a letter, that an early debate on the Fennell report is not necessary, because of "the lengthy exchanges" that took place on the day of the statement on the report? Does he accept that the public will see this as a gross dereliction of his

responsibilities, and will he reconsider?

Mr. Channon : If the hon. Gentleman wishes to have a debate on the issue, he has every opportunity to call for one. Such a debate in Government time is largely a matter for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. The House will know from what I said in my statement, which has been widely commented on, that every conceivable effort is being made to improve safety within the London Underground system. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman welcomes, as I do, the vast sums that are being expended on safety on London Underground. If the Opposition want a debate, the remedy is in their hands.

The information is as follows :



2. The following studies in which the Department has an interest           

 are also in progress:                                                     

Docklands Public Transport Study                                           

Second Channel Tunnel Terminal                                             

3. The Department has also committed £186,000 to studies                   

 commissioned by Westminster City Council into ways of improving           

 the environment and traffic conditions in Parliament Square.              



2. The following studies in which the Department has an interest           

 are also in progress:                                                     

Docklands Public Transport Study                                           

Second Channel Tunnel Terminal                                             

3. The Department has also committed £186,000 to studies                   

 commissioned by Westminster City Council into ways of improving           

 the environment and traffic conditions in Parliament Square.              

Accident Statistics

2. Mr. Mullin : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will give figures for the number of fatal accidents involving heavy lorries for the last year for which figures are available.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Peter Bottomley) : In 1987, 910 people were killed in the 776 accidents involving heavy goods vehicles. Fuller details will be published shortly in the casualty report "Road Accidents, Great Britain". Heavy goods vehicles are less likely to be involved in crashes, but more likely to be associated with fatalities.

Mr. Mullin : Is not the simplest way to reduce the number of people killed by heavy lorries to encourage freight to travel by rail again, or is that an ideologically unsound answer to a very serious problem?

Mr. Bottomley : That is a partial answer. One of the benefits of the Channel tunnel is that there will be a greater relative movement of freight by the railways as journeys become longer. However, the truth remains that, whether we are talking about cars, lorries or motor bikes, people are driving too close, too fast and with too little regard for others. It is no good my claiming that our casualty rates are improving, when I still have to give figures such as those that I have given today.

Mr. Gregory : Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the major causes of those accidents is our very low tyre regulations in comparison with the rest of the EC? Will my hon. Friend consider carefully the possibility of our moving towards the EC draft directive, which states that tyre depth covers the whole of the tyre rather than just 75 per cent.?

Mr. Bottomley : My answer is no to the first part of my hon. Friend's question, and no to the second part. The Department and I have said that if anyone produces scientific evidence that the tread regulations are leading to a greater number of casualties, we will look at that evidence. In most cases Europe should be copying us, rather than the other way round.

M1 (Traffic Congestion)

3. Mr. Janner : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport whether he will make a statement on new measures to relieve traffic congestion on the M1 motorway.

Mr. Peter Bottomley : The opening of the M40 extension from Oxford to Birmingham will bring relief to the M1 between London and the M6. In addition, we are planning improvements to junction 1, a climbing lane at junction 9 and widening between junctions 23A and 24.

Mr. Janner : What will the Minister do to relieve the additional congestion which his announced measures will undoubtedly bring? Does he not realise that travellers on the M1 are afflicted by chronic, disgraceful and dangerous congestion, which leads to delays? In particular, will he please take steps to alleviate the congestion at the exit from the M1 at the city of Leicester?

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Mr. Bottomley : My answer to the hon. and learned Gentleman's point is yes and we aim to provide traffic signals at junction 21 as a matter of urgency. With regard to his first point, the hon. and learned gentleman was a supporter of a Labour Government who, between 1974 and 1979, exactly halved spending on new national roads in real terms.

Mr. Marlow : As the only time that one can assess the journey time on the M1 these days is at the time of day when no one actually wants to travel on the M1, and as at any other time of the day one is beset by chronic congestion, could my hon. Friend, instead of saying that it is a terrible situation and no doubt the M40 will improve the situation, actually ask the Government, either to reduce economic growth so that we have less traffic on the road or, if he does not want to do that, produce the roads so that we can drive down them? We do not have them at the moment. Will he take whatever powers are necessary and get on with it?

Mr. Bottomley : I think that this is one of the occasions when I say that I do not know. I shall consider what my hon. Friend has said.

Mr. Tony Banks : What is the point of relieving traffic congestion on the M1 if cars just get into London quicker and then run into all the problems that we discussed in response to the first question today? Surely it is about time that the Minister realised that there is no coherent transport policy in his Department. Frankly, the Government Front Bench is in as much of a shambles as transport in our capital city.

Mr. Bottomley : I believe that the hon. Gentleman might discover from the next question that the M1 does more than feed commuter traffic into London. This is a far more serious issue than the hon. Gentleman has ever shown any sign of being aware of.

Mr. Madel : When will repairs to junction 8 by Hemel Hempstead be completed? At present, they are causing great chaos. Once we have dealt with junction 8, can we look forward to a period of no repairs on the M1 between Bedfordshire and London for a reasonable space of time?

Mr. Bottomley : The answer to my hon. Friend's first question is early December. In response to his second point, yes, we can look forward to that, but because so much of the road reconstruction work was not carried out under the previous Labour Government, we are having to catch up.

Mr. Tony Lloyd : Does the Minister still subscribe to the departmental view that motorists must accept that journeys will not get quicker, but, if anything, become worse? That is what his Department says. Does he accept that the travelling public are heartily sick of congestion on the motorways and of ministerial excuses? Does he also accept that the idea of a good card fast lane for executives is ridiculous? The idea of means-testing motorways could come only from the present Government. Let us have some real planning for both public and private transport.

Mr. Bottomley : If planning is anything like that of the last Labour Government we shall not get very far very fast. Spending on new national roads rose by 30 per cent. in real terms in the first nine years of this Government, and is now planned to increase by another 20 per cent. If the thinness

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of the Opposition's arguments needs to be hidden behind the views of the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd), the sooner that he gives way to his hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) as transport spokesman, the better.

Mr. Tredinnick : Is my hon. Friend aware of the chaos that gripped the midlands motorway system on Friday? Will he now consider the possibility of a second M1--an M1-super--which could be funded by the private sector?

Mr. Bottomley : Obviously, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has asked the Department to review the motorway and trunk road network, and we shall be doing that. It would be nice to be able to get rid of more of the congestion between the cities, but let me say to those who were held up on Friday--or have been held up on other occasions--that it is necessary to get the right perspective. I am fed up with reading newspaper reports with such headlines as: "Death Crash Causes Rush Hour Chaos".

We should be aware that often we are held up because another human being has lost his life in a road accident.

Journey Times

4. Mr. Hardy : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what is his current estimate of the time it takes a responsible motorist to drive during the day from Westminster to south Yorkshire on the A1 ; and how much this has changed relative to the estimated time of such a journey 10 years ago.

Mr. Bottomley : This information is not available.

We have steadily improved the A1 and plan further improvements.

Mr. Hardy : Does the Minister accept that considerable and increasing stretches of road for considerable and increasing periods resemble car parks rather than major arterial routes? Does he accept that the answer does not lie in delving into quite ancient history to reproduce the toll booth and the turnpike?

Mr. Bottomley : I am not aware that the toll booth and the turnpike have been appearing, except on some of our estuarial crossings. Unlike the hon. Gentleman, we have not closed our minds to the possibility of using private finance. Over the past 10 years many journeys in many parts of the country have become faster, more reliable and less congested. If people will start looking at the bypass programme--both the completed programmes and those that are continuing now--and at the 850 extra miles of road, they will see the benefits. If the hon. Gentleman wishes me to name one, let me name Okehampton.

Sir Anthony Grant : Is my hon. Friend aware that one of the factors affecting the time that it takes to travel from Westminster to Yorkshire on the A1 is the difficulty of driving through the extremely dangerous section that runs through my constituency, in which there have been some horrific accidents? When will my hon. Friend and the Department respond to the many representations made by me, and by Cambridgeshire county council, asking for something to be done about this horror spot?

Mr. Bottomley : We are doing what we can in Cambridgeshire, as well as in Bedfordshire and Nottinghamshire. I hope that local people will support

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rather than oppose some of the minor works closing gaps. We shall also do what we can to get on with grade separation.

Ms. Armstrong : Is the Minister aware that his answers to me during the last Transport questions on the A1 caused some confusion in the region? Can we now confidently look forward to the development of a three-lane motorway from the A1, which would then be able to carry properly the volume of traffic that it is now trying unsuccessfully to carry?

Mr. Bottomley : That is our intention. It is one of the reasons why we are concentrating on the A1 rather than going for an east coast motorway. Perhaps the best thing that I can do is write to the hon. Lady, so that there will be no confusion.

Road Surfaces (Coaches)

5. Mr. Yeo : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what representations he has received regarding the danger to road surfaces caused by passenger coaches.

Mr. Peter Bottomley : We have received no formal representations. Less than 2 per cent. of road wear and tear on motorways in the United Kingdom is attributable to buses and coaches, and some 8 per cent. of road wear and tear to all United Kingdom roads.

Mr. Yeo : As wear and tear caused by passenger coaches is clearly much greater than that caused by ordinary passenger cars, does my hon. Friend agree that it is utterly ridiculous that the licence fee for coaches is less than that for private motor cars? That prevents any fair competition between rail and road. British Rail is expected to make a contribution to costs, but under present policies passenger coaches are not.

Mr. Bottomley : I think that these are issues that the Government should keep under review.

Mr. Adley : With respect, that answer is only half good enough. There were some useful side effects of coach deregulation, but the Metropolitan police have described the situation in London caused by coach deregulation as horrendous. Vehicle excise duty for a 53-seater coach is less than that for a Fiat Panda. Coaches park anywhere and pay nothing for it. They leave their engines running and cause major pollution. Will my hon. Friend review the Act that governs deregulation, not with the idea of scrapping it, but with a view of returning to the London boroughs the right to designate coach routes in London?

Mr. Bottomley : That is going slightly wide of the question, but it may be that these issues ought to be considered in some other way and in some other place.

Manchester Airport Rail Link

6. Mr. Favell : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what recent representations he has received on the proposed Manchester airport rail link.

The Minister for Public Transport (Mr. Michael Portillo) : Officers of the Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Authority and Executive discussed the matter with my officials on 1 November. Ministers will be happy to approve such an investment if there is a sound case.

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Mr. Favell : Manchester airport is the fastest growing airport in Europe. Is not the pedestrian way in which British Rail is reacting to this wonderful investment opportunity typical of a nationalised concern? Is my hon. Friend, for whom I have the greatest regard, able to assure me that Manchester airport will be privatised as quickly as possible, so that this kind of thing is not repeated in the future?

Mr. Portillo : My hon. Friend knows that the privatisation of British Rail is under consideration. If, however, the discussions go well, my hon. Friend should not have to wait for privatisation, if that is to occur. If there is a strong commercial case for it, as he believes, I shall be happy to approve the investment.

Sir Fergus Montgomery : Is my hon. Friend aware of how important economically Manchester international airport is to the north-west region? Is he aware that today important talks are taking place in America about the prospects of more inter-continental flights into and out of Manchester airport that would be of great help to us? May I have his assurance that the Department is doing all that it can? If the flights into Manchester airport are approved, the rail link will be of even greater importance.

Mr. Portillo : My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the discussions. United Kingdom and United States negotiators are meeting today and tomorrow to discuss these matters. We had hoped to be able to bring the discussions to a conclusion this week, but apparently the United States Government have said that they believe that the two teams may need to meet again, perhaps in December. We shall continue to press for progress to be made. Final agreement will depend partly on whether the United States Government are prepared to be flexible and are anxious to press for progress.

Mr. Snape : Is it not strange that the rail link into Stansted airport, which carries a fraction of the traffic carried at Manchester, has already commenced? Despite years of debate in the House, no work has yet been done on a rail link to Manchester airport. What has happened to the proposals? Have they been put forward for ministerial approval, and if not, why not?

Mr. Portillo : The hon. Gentleman is wrong to say that no work has been done on the rail link. An enormous amount of work has been done. I expect proposals to be put to me fairly soon, but they have not yet come before me. We are waiting for advice on the extent to which the additional revenue on the British Rail network will be offset by costs incurred in earning that revenue on the network. We shall consider the possible private sector role. We shall ask British Rail for a statement of its investment case. We shall also ask for a joint statement by the Passenger Transport Executive, the Passenger Transport Authority, British Rail and the airport on how the costs are to be shared. I believe that we are making good progress on all those matters.

Road Schemes (Finance)

8. Mr. Andrew Mitchell : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport how many road schemes, under construction or planned, are being financed with private money.

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Mr. Portillo : The privately financed Dartford-Thurrock crossing is now under construction. The private sector will have the opportunity to finance a second crossing of the River Severn in the forthcoming competition. Since April 1986 agreements have been made with private sector firms to contribute to the funding of 48 trunk road schemes. Local highway authorities are also entering into agreements with the private sector to finance a large number of local road schemes.

Mr. Mitchell : Is my hon. Friend aware that many hon. Members believe that there is a need for greater private sector involvement in road building and road operation, probably through the use of tolls, as a means of meeting the massive difficulties in building up the road infrastructure that is now needed, as well as meeting the massive demand for better roads?

Mr. Portillo : I share my hon. Friend's belief that there is great potential for the wider use of private sector funding to improve the efficiency of road building and potentially in helping to meet the public demand for roads through schemes that would not be built under the public sector programme. I recognise that such schemes might need to be funded by tolls.

Mrs. Ray Michie : Is the Minister aware that in Spain, where privatised roads have been greatly encouraged, the number of accidents on the parallel public roads has increased enormously? Does the Minister agree that privatised roads in this country would not solve our traffic problems in any way?

Mr. Portillo : I should like to investigate the evidence that the hon. Lady has put forward because many other factors may be involved. Of course I am keen that roads built in the private sector should be built to the same safety standards as those in the public sector. That goes without saying.

Mr. Baldry : Will my hon. Friend take the opportunity to deny any suggestion that the M40 extension may be tolled, as suggested by Tarmac? Will he also take the opportunity to confirm a suggestion in The Times today, which seemed to be based on a reasonably authoritative leak, that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport will announce in the new year that the M40 will be three lanes throughout? I am sure that the House would like that to be confirmed.

Mr. Portillo : We had better wait until the new year to confirm what my right hon. Friend may have to say. I believe that the proposal from Tarmac was made by an individual in the company. Nobody has offered money for the M40 to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

Mr. Prescott : Can the Minister confirm that British road expenditure, expressed as a percentage of the vehicle excise duty collected, has declined from 35 per cent. under the Labour Government to 25 per cent. now, which is the lowest in Europe? Does he accept that if the Government had maintained the same proportion of taxation expenditure on roads as the Labour Government we could have spent £2 billion more on our inadequate roads, rather than on funding tax cuts for the wealthy?

Mr. Portillo : Road spending this year is 30 per cent. higher than in the last year of the Labour Government.

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A38 (Saltash-Trerulefoot)

9. Mr. Robert Hicks : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will include the A38 trunk road improvement Saltash-Trerulefoot section in the 1992 to 1994 roads programmes.

Mr. Channon : This scheme will receive careful consideration when the road programme is reviewed next spring.

Mr. Hicks : Is my right hon. Friend aware that with the opening of the Saltash bypass, which he kindly undertook in September, in theory one can now drive, without changing gear, between Glasgow or London and Saltash along motorway or dual carriageway, but that one then hits a most unsatisfactory first-class cart track of eight or nine miles which bisects two villages? My right hon. Friend cannot agree that that is either satisfactory or sensible.

Mr. Channon : My hon. Friend was kind enough to take me along that particular section of road and I was deeply impressed by what he showed me. I shall keep the matter very much in mind. As usual, my hon. Friend is proving a powerful advocate for his constituents.

Channel Tunnel

10. Mr. Gill : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what consideration he has given to the siting of one of the proposed Channel tunnel terminals to the north of central London.

Mr. Portillo : The siting of Channel tunnel rail terminals is a matter for British Rail, which has suggested King's Cross, Stratford or White City as possible sites.

Mr. Gill : I appreciate that the decision must rest with the commercial undertaking--in this case, British Rail. However, will my hon. Friend use his considerable influence to encourage British Rail to look at the possibility of using the cheaper and more extensive sites available to it to the north of central London? Will he also seek to remind British Rail of the folly of bringing into central London one more passenger than necessary, bearing in mind the considerable congestion that already exists in the metropolis, which is bordering on paralysis? Will he further consider that by encouraging British Rail to choose a site away from central London he would considerably assist the spread of prosperity to the regions beyond the south-east, including Scotland and the Principality of Wales?

Mr. Portillo : I am as keen as my hon. Friend to ensure that the advantages and benefits of the Channel tunnel extend to every region. Ideally, the terminal site that is chosen must offer services and easy interchange to the regions. However, my hon. Friend must recognise that many people want to travel from the centre of Paris or Brussels to the heart of London and the terminal must cater for them, too.

Mr. Pike : Does the Minister recognise that the second largest concentration of population in the country lies in the belt from the Mersey to the Humber, and that to enable people to travel in the best possible way we need a terminal in the north-west, which could serve both those regions and be an advantage not only to them, but to London, by relieving congestion there?

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Mr. Portillo : The hon. Gentleman knows that section 40 of the Channel Tunnel Act 1987 requires British Rail to come forward with plans by the end of next year for the freight and passenger services that it proposes to put in place in the regions. Discussions are now taking place through working parties in every region and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will want to make his point of view known to those working parties.

Mr. Hind : Does my hon. Friend consider that building terminals at, for example, Manchester and Liverpool, and using route four, which was suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley) in his excellent magazine "Tunnel Vision", will take an awful lot of traffic out of the centre of London and straight into the tunnel and thus deal with the problem that my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill) has mentioned?

Mr. Portillo : I read "Tunnel Vision" with great interest. I hope that my hon. Friend the author will pursue those proposals with British Rail. It will be for him to convince British Rail that that route makes the best possible sense.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing : What role is the Department playing in ensuring that British Rail does not concentrate all its efforts on the golden triangle in the south-east? Is the Department trying to use its influence to persuade British Rail that it should electrify north of the central belt in Scotland to ensure that the Grampian region and the Highlands and Islands are not disadvantaged?

Mr. Portillo : I do not believe that electrification is the crucial issue for freight services. However, we have written into the Channel Tunnel Act the requirement that British Rail should bring forward its proposals for the regions for both freight and passenger traffic. I look forward, as I am sure does the hon. Lady, to those proposals being made by the end of next year.

Road Building

11. Mr. Devlin : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport how many new road schemes will be started in 1989.

Mr. Channon : About 40.

Mr. Devlin : In view of the high premium that roads in the north- east will have in the run-up to 1992, will my right hon. Friend tell me whether included in the number for announcement next year are the Stockton south spine road, the A167 Middleton St. George bypass and the three-lane motorway scheme to replace the A1, which is currently effecting a wall of congestion between the north-east of England and the rest of the country?

Mr. Channon : I had better write to my hon. Friend on some of the more detailed points. I am strongly in favour of improving road links to the north and hope to start the Woolsington bypass in the north-east and to make improvements in north Yorkshire. With the extra amount of money available for road expenditure, I am looking forward to extensive improvements to the A1, especially in Yorkshire, and to a general review of the whole road programme. I shall bear what my hon. Friend has said in mind.

Mr. Haynes : Is the Secretary of State aware that I am a cyclist, that there are a great many of us in the Chamber

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right now and that we are shocked and appalled by the fact that none of the new roads provided in the past and none of those proposed for the future give proper consideration to cyclists? I want to know what he is going to do about that.

Mr. Channon : In conjunction with my hon. Friend the Minister responsible for roads, I shall consider what the hon. Gentleman has said, and I am sure that we shall be able to do everything that he wants.

Mr. Moate : What is my right hon. Friend doing to speed up the decision-making and planning processes involved in new road schemes? Does he accept that, compared with the speed of industrial and economic change today, and with the practice of our competitors on the continent, our present processes are painfully and unacceptably slow?

Mr. Channon : Practice varies in different parts of the continent and in some places the processes are considerably slower even than those of the British system. Of course, we must have a system to preserve people's democratic rights and the planning procedures. However, I am working on improvements to the internal mechanisms of the Department, which I hope will ensure a significant speeding up of the present procedures.

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