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Business of the House

3.31 pm

Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland) : May I ask the Leader of the House to tell us the business for next week?

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Sir Geoffrey Howe) : The business for next week will be as follows :

Monday 29 January----Second Reading of the Employment Bill. Motion relating to the Welfare Food (Amendment) Regulations. Tuesday 30 January---- Opposition Day (4th Allotted Day). Until about seven o'clock, there will be a debate entitled "People trapped in poverty". Afterwards there will be a debate entitled "Implications of the Taylor report for safety at football grounds". Both debates will arise on Opposition motions.

Motions relating to private medical insurance regulations. Details will be given in the Official Report.

Wednesday 31 January----Opposition Day (5th Allotted Day). Until about seven o'clock, there will be a debate entitled "The European Community and developments in eastern Europe". Afterwards there will be a debate entitled "Small businesses and the self-employed". Both debates will arise on motions in the name of the Social and Liberal Democrats.

Thursday 1 February----Until seven o'clock, debate on procedure motions. Details will be given in the Official Report.

Remaining stages of the Civil Aviation Authority (Borrowing Powers) Bill.

The Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration at seven o'clock.

Friday 2 February----Private Members' Bills.

Monday 5 February----There will be a debate on the Royal Navy on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

[Relevant documents :

Tuesday 30 January

Private Medical Insurance (Disentitlement to Tax Relief and Approved Benefits) Regulations (SI 1989, No. 2389).

Private Medical Insurance (Tax Relief) Regulations (SI 1989, No. 2387).

Thursday 1 February

Procedure Motions :

Private Members' Motions

Motions for Leave to Bring in Bills, Etc.

New Writs

Public Petitions

Motions for Leave to Bring in Bills, Etc. (Budget Day).]

Dr. Cunningham : Given the continuing serious damage to manufacturing industry, business generally and family incomes caused by the Government's economic policy failures and the continuing high interest rates, will the Leader of the House say when we can have a debate on the Government's public expenditure plans and the economy? Next Thursday's business is an attempt to create a new climate for private Members' time during business in the House. Will the Leader of the House assure us that the

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Consumer Guarantees Bill, introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, South-West (Mr. Jones), will not be blocked by Ministers in the House tomorrow?

Is the Leader of the House aware that, during the last Session of this Parliament, against all reasonable evidence and argument, we were obliged to spend 110 hours of parliamentary time and great sums of public money on the Football Spectators Act, which is nothing more than the unreasoning obsession of a domineering and out-of-touch Prime Minister?

Is it not now abundantly clear that Ministers, and the Prime Minister in particular, ought to have taken the advice and waited for Lord Justice Taylor's report so that all that parliamentary time and all that public money might not have been expended needlessly? In addition to the promised statement on Monday, can the right hon. and learned Gentleman assure us that no further work will be carried out, at public expense, on football authorities to be set up under the legislation or on the identity card scheme? Will he ensure that, when his right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary comes to the House on Monday, he will make it clear whether or not the Government have proposals to compensate football clubs for the large amounts of unnecessary expenditure that they have been obliged to incur?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : The hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friends will have ample opportunity to advance those last points, both by way of questions to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on Monday and, of course, in the debate for which they have asked on Tuesday, which I have already announced. I hope that they will take into account the underlying and most important aspect of all this--the fact that there is widespread, deep national anxiety about the problems to which this legislation was directed, that the problems are much more wide-ranging than those touched upon by the Taylor report, and that a very heavy responsibility rests on those whose duty it will be to implement the recommendations of the report and on the House generally for remedying those situations. All those matters can be investigated in the debates that will take place next week. So far as the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Clwyd, South-West (Mr. Jones) is concerned, the hon. Gentleman will have to await the outcome of tomorrow's proceedings.

As to the debate on the public expenditure White Paper, we have already this week had one excellent debate, in which the Chancellor very effectively presented his economic policies to the House and to the country. As I told the hon. Gentleman last week, I hope to arrange, in the relatively near future, yet another debate of that quality on the public expenditure White Paper.

Mr. Robert Hayward (Kingswood) : Will my right hon. and learned Friend please give consideration to early-day motion 346?

[That this House notes that 89 per cent. of the doctors in Brentwood and Ongar who responded to a Liberal Democrat survey of general practitioners believe that patients will lose from the proposed health service review and that the same percentage are against general practitioners being able to buy hospital care for their patients in the hospital of their choice, and that 89 per cent. of them also believe that the reforms will place restrictions on their ability to cater for patients with special needs.]

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Will he also note that early-day motion 347 has been withdrawn today? Will we have an opportunity in Opposition time next Wednesday to discuss the remaining motion on the Order Paper in the context of the SLD motion? The vast majority of hon. Members consider the presence of either of those motions on the Order Paper at any time distasteful.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point. The whole House should welcome the fact that early-day motion 347 has been withdrawn. I am sure that the House does not need to be reminded that, although these motions are in order, there are well known conventions about the way in which hon. Members deal with each other in relation to their constituencies. I think that hon. Members on all sides would deprecate the practice of using early-day motions of this kind in the manner complained of.

Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East) : Has the Leader of the House seen early-day motion 367?

[That this House calls upon the Secretary of State for the Home Department to publish the report of the Northamptonshire Police into the policing of Wapping on 24th January 1987.]

The territorial support groups at Wapping were out of control and acted indiscriminately and with sickening brutality and violence. Since then, there has been a three-year cover-up. Does not this show that the idea of the accountability of the Metropolitan Police to this House is a myth, that senior police officers are not answerable to anybody--have, indeed, appeared to do what they like--that they act outside the law, and that when things go wrong, they are not accountable to anybody? Will the Leader of the House please see that this report is published as soon as possible, so that we can have an early debate?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : The hon. Gentleman does not present a fair statement of the position regarding the accountability of the police and the police authorities. This was a confidential report that was prepared and submitted to the independent Police Complaints Authority, the body to which police authorities are accountable. Subject to the need not to prejudice outstanding criminal proceedings--that, too, is a legitimate consideration--the authority intends to publish a full summary of the report, in accordance with its usual practice, as soon as possible. It is right, however, that these other matters should be taken into account. Once the report has been published, the question of a debate can be considered.

Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West) : Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware of the infernal increasing nuisance, particularly to the people of Cambridgeshire, of these wretched acid house parties, the menance of which is growing in many parts of the country, and certainly in Cambridgeshire? Can my right hon. and learned Friend assure me that the Government will place no impediment in the way of the excellent private Member's Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South (Mr. Bright) which is designed to stamp out this menace?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : As I have told the House before, the Government share my hon. Friend's concern about the

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impact of acid house parties. They made an impact some months ago in my constituency. We shall certainly give the most favourable consideration possible to the Bill to which my hon. Friend refers.

Sir David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale) : Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement to be made next week by the Secretary of State for Health on a report today that attendances at a big chain of opticians have dropped by 36 per cent. since charges were introduced nine months ago? Does he recognise that this is something else about which the Government were warned by hon. Members on both sides of the House and that a statement is needed?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : The right hon. Gentleman draws attention to one aspect of that matter, as he sees it. It is open to him and to his party to raise matters of that kind in the House in the ordinary way.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North) : As the Chinese Government have said that they will make it more difficult for those who are issued with British passports to remain in Hong Kong after 1997, when it is the Government's intention to encourage those people to stay in Hong Kong, could we have an early statement as to the necessary changes in Government policy--in particular how the new policy will accord with the Conservative party's manifesto commitments at the last five general elections?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary addressed that question with clarity and distinction in the House only a few days ago.

Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South) : Is the Leader of the House aware that there is an incredible backlog of 90,000 people injured by criminals, who are waiting for the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board to assess their claims, some of which are urgent? Does the Leader of the House agree that their cases demand immediate attention? May we have a debate next week, please?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : The right hon. Gentleman characteristically brings his question fully within the rules of order by asking for a debate next week on the subject. I cannot promise him a debate. However, I understand his continuing concern about the effective operation of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board. I shall therefore draw the matter to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Berkshire, East) : To return to early-day motion 346 and the withdrawn early-day motion 347, is it not totally contemptible that Liberal Members should have exploited the serious illness of two of our hon. Friends? Is there no depth to which the Liberal party will not sink in order to grovel for votes? Should not the whole House condemn the Liberal party? May we have a debate on the subject, in which we can make it quite clear that we are appalled that on their Supply day next week they have not chosen to talk about that early-day motion which they have so contemptibly tabled?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : My hon. Friend has made his point forcefully, and I think that his view is widely shared by hon. Members in all parts of the House. When I answered the original question about the matter, I noticed, as other hon. Members will have done, the right hon. Member for

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Tweeddale, Etterick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel)--the erstwhile leader of the Liberal party--nodding his head in agreement with what I was saying. Therefore, I half expected, when he rose to his feet to question me, that he would have made the very point that my hon. Friend has just made. There are still two further opportunities for that.

This is a serious matter. We are talking about our colleagues in this House. All of us are fair game for motions and comments from every direction, subject to certain conventions. In my judgment, and in the judgment of the whole House, what has happened in this case goes beyond those conventions. I am glad to see that the right hon. Gentleman is nodding his head in agreement.

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton) : Although I welcome the facts that the Government will be making a statement on the Taylor report on Monday and that there will be a debate initiated by the Opposition on Tuesday, is the Leader of the House aware that for some of us it is not simply a matter of ID cards? More than 90 people in my area were killed in the Hillsborough disaster, and some of us want a full day's debate on the matter.

It is not just a matter of ID cards, as some of us argued against them from the start. We want to ensure that never again will there be such a disaster in which people from Liverpool and elsewhere are killed at football matches. We want a full debate on safety and not just on ID cards. My right hon. and hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench should have asked some of us before they agreed to a half-day debate, as some of us feel that a full day's debate is necessary.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : Nobody under-estimates the importance of the matter to the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues who represent Liverpool. However, it is a matter of general national importance. That is why so much time of the House was devoted to it in the last Session, despite the complaints of Opposition Members. The debate next Tuesday will provide an early opportunity to consider the matter very widely in terms of the Opposition motion. We can consider thereafter what further action, by way of debate or anything else, will be necessary.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North) : Can my right hon. and learned Friend arrange an early opportunity for the house to debate the constitutional position of Scotland vis-a-vis the rest of the United Kingdom? The Scottish press is full of stories that taxes in Scotland will be different from those in England and Wales. That is a constitutional matter. There is also the problem of Scotland becoming a guinea pig. Before the Labour party gets the chop for attempting all those things, will my right hon. and learned Friend arrange for an early debate on the matter?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I understand my hon. Friend's continuing concern for the welfare of his constituents and the people of Scotland. The press north and south of the border is regularly full of reports of taxes in the minds of Opposition Members. The nation should beware of them in all parts of the United Kingdom.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray) : Is the Leader of the House aware that the Scottish Office has now published a consultation document on the management of the North sea white fisheries in 1990? As that document contains complex and detailed recommendations on technical

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conservation measures, including substantial lay-offs of the fisheries this year without any compensation, and as those recommendations have to go to the European Commission very quickly, will the Leader of the House arrange next week at least a statement of the Government's view, or preferably a debate?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I cannot give such a precise undertaking at this stage, but I shall certainly draw the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland to the views expressed by the hon. Lady.

Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South) : Could my right hon. and learned Friend arrange for an early Government statement on the Channel tunnel, in view of the financial irregularities and other matters disclosed in today's edition of Contract Journal? Is my right hon. Friend aware that Mr. Peter Costain, chairman of the Costain construction company, wrote a letter to the chairman of Eurotunnel accusing Eurotunnel of having made a statement to shareholders which was

"incomplete, inaccurate, and calculated to mislead"?

As that statement resulted in approximately £50 million-worth of gains to Eurotunnel's shares immediately after its publication, and as the statement now appears to have been misleading and inaccurate, does my right hon. and learned Friend not consider that it would be appropriate to draw these matters to the attention of the regulatory authorities, such as the stock exchange and the Department of Trade and Industry?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : As my hon. Friend realises from the nature of his question, the Channel tunnel is a private sector project and the matters to which he refers arise between the various contractors involved. If and in so far as they deserve further investigation, I shall bring them to the attention of my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Trade and Industry and for Transport and the regulatory authorities.

Miss Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) : Is the Leader of the House aware of the increasing anger throughout the international world about the Prime Minister overruling the Secretary of State for the Environment and allowing the stockpile of ivory in Hong Kong to be sold? Is he aware that half that ivory was illegally poached? As we have lost all credibility with the international environmental movement, does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that a statement should be made, enabling us properly to debate the issue, to ensure that the African elephant does not become extinct because of the increasing awkwardness of the Prime Minister in refusing to listen to her Secretary of State for the Environment?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : The whole House is concerned about the preservation of he world's elephant stock and understands the importance of the matter, which was not well stated by the hon. Lady. The exception made for Hong Kong is of limited duration and applies to stock already there. It is entirely without prejudice to the more extensive measures designed to ensure the protection of the species.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Crawley) : My right hon. and learned Friend will not be aware of the tragic case of my constituent, Martin Allsop--he was married, aged 22 and had a child of six months--who was knocked down and

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killed on a zebra crossing by a drunken driver. At Maidstone Crown court last week, the driver of the car was found guilty of careless driving, fined £250 and banned for two years. In sharing my constituents' disgust at that lamentable sentence, does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that time should be made available for the issue of the sentencing of drink-driving offences to be dealt with properly in the House in a thorough debate?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : Nobody can doubt the seriousness of the case raised by my hon. Friend, and everyone will extend their sympathy to his constituent's family. I hope that there will be an opportunity before too long for the matter that my hon. Friend raised to be debated, but I cannot say precisely when that will be.

Mr. Ted Leadbitter (Hartlepool) : Will the Leader of the House consider arranging an early debate, or at least a statement from the appropriate Secretary of State, perhaps next week, on the serious issue of the costs to many thousands of people arising from coal-mining subsidence? Many millions of pounds are in the claim pipeline. The Select Committee on Energy reported to the House three years ago, when the time scale for claims had been considerably longer than three or four years. Will he say whether British Coal will at last be moved to act by some pressure from the House or from the Secretary of State?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I cannot promise an instant reaction, because the report was made some time ago. I shall certainly arrange to discuss it at an early date with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy.

Sir Dudley Smith (Warwick and Leamington) : As a fair number of people, some of whom should know better, are beginning to believe that perhaps, given the destabilisation in eastern Europe, NATO and the Western European Union are superfluous, does my right hon. and learned Friend think it important to have a debate before long on the future of NATO and the Western European Union and our involvement in them?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I have no doubt that the general importance of the subject raised by my hon. Friend is well understood by Conservative Members. He may have an opportunity to raise the matter in next Wednesday's debate, or conceivably in the debate on the following Monday.

Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr) : May we have two statements next week on theft? First, may we have a statement on the Government's position following the latest collapse of the insider dealing legislation, which is now a complete shambles after the case at Southwark Crown court earlier this week, which was clearly closely connected with the Government? We need to know whether it will ever be possible to change that legislation so that at least a successful prosecution can be brought for what is out-and-out theft, although the victims are not clearly identifiable.

Secondly, may we have a statement on the organised loophole that the Government deliberately inserted in the poll tax legislation to allow private landlords to pocket the rates of their tenants but not reduce their combined rent and rates? It is not fair that housing benefit should be paid on that basis or that private landlords should be allowed

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to pocket the rates. That cannot be right, yet that loophole was knowingly left in the Bill, as we know, because it was raised with Ministers in Committee. There is just enough time to clear the matter up. If we do not, private landlords will pocket tens of millions of pounds illegally from 1 April this year.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I am not able to answer speeches made at business questions ; nor is it my function to do so. On the hon. Gentleman's first point, my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney- General will be answering questions on Monday and the hon. Gentleman may have the opportunity of raising the matter with him then.

Several Hon. Members rose --

Mr. Speaker : I remind the House that Members should ask one question and--[ Hon. Members :-- "Hear, hear."] Order. I also remind the House that we have an important debate today. I would therefore ask for brief questions to the Leader of the House.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South) : Will my right hon. and learned Friend say when we shall have a chance to support the Government's wholly justified policy on Hong Kong?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I cannot tell my hon. Friend when there will be a further opportunity to debate this matter, but it has been the subject of a recent report to the House by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, who will no doubt keep the House informed.

Ms. Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North) : May I press the Leader of the House once again for an opportunity to discuss the Crown immunity that exists in this building, especially in view of the news that Central Lobby has just had to be closed because of the danger posed by the weather? In the interests of the health, safety and welfare of all those who work in the building including our employees, is it not time that we had a debate on Crown immunity?

Mr. Joseph Ashton (Bassetlaw) : We should adjourn the House--it might fall in.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : As the hon. Lady knows, I am already considering particular anxieties--for example, in relation to insurance for Members' employees. She also asked about safety today. A sizeable piece of masonry was blown from the Central Tower into the corner of the hut on the roof down to an inner courtyard. There were no casualties, and that hut was cleared of all occupants. Central Lobby is also closed until the Property Services Agency has ensured that there is no more risk of danger from the Central Tower, and the Parliamentary Works Officer is investigating that with the utmost urgency. I must, however, express the view and hope that today's weather conditions are entirely exceptional.

Mr. Jerry Hayes (Harlow) : I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend will be distressed to learn that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont-Dark) was bitten by a rottweiler early this morning and my right hon. and learned Friend will no doubt wish to give his best wishes for a speedy recovery to my hon. Friend--and to the dog. This raises an important matter, because people are buying ferocious animals for no

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other reason than as a status symbol. If not controlled, such animals can maim and savage young children. May we have a debate on this matter reasonably soon?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : The whole House will join me in expressing sympathy with my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont-Dark), although we may have reservations about the dog. The matter was considered by the House during the passage of legislation last summer. We shall wait to see whether my hon. Friend feels impelled to bring the matter back to the Floor of the House on his return.

Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones (Ynys Mon) : Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Wales or the Secretary of State for Transport to make a statement to the House in early course about Rail Freight Distribution, a subsidiary of British Rail, and in particular about the conduct of a container service between Holyhead and Dublin which has recently opened and which is being run with a German crew and a German ship? Many of us who are concerned about local employment have been seeking information from the company but it appears to be stonewalling. It will not answer my letters or even return my telephone calls. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman ensure that the company undertakes its responsibilities seriously? It is answerable to the Secretary of State for Transport, and he should conduct an immediate inquiry into its activities.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I can certainly ensure that that point is brought to the attention of my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Transport and for Wales.

Mr. Humfrey Malins (Croydon, North-West) : Will my right hon. Friend find the time soon for a debate on traffic levels, the proposed new road schemes and on public transport generally in south London? Many of my constituents in Norbury, SW16, are worried by the threat to their homes and businesses from possible changes to the A23, so an early opportunity to debate those matters would be greatly appreciated.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I can understand my hon. Friend's anxiety to represent his constituents' anxieties on that matter. My constituency is not very much further down the A23. My hon. Friend can, of course, seek the opportunity of an Adjournment debate, but I shall bring his points to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport in any case.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South) : In the course of next week's business, does the Leader of the House intend to lay "forthwith" orders relating to statutory instruments that were taken in Committee? If he does, does he contemplate laying them and asking the House to approve them before the associated Official Report of the Committees are available? Would it not be conducive to the good ordering of the House if such orders were not laid until the reports were available, thus avoiding some of the difficulties experienced by the House last night?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I do not detect that the House had any serious practical difficulty last night on this matter. It has been normal practice for such orders to be laid before the House on the day after the meeting of the Committee. Normally the printing and publication of the report is compatible with that. However, at a time when there is heavy pressure on the resources available for transcribing

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and printing the necessary material, it has turned out that the report has not been available. I shall certainly see whether anything can be done to remedy that disjointed quality, which is something that we should try to avoid.

Mr Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle) : Notwithstanding the report in today's Times that plans are to be prepared in secret, is my right hon. and learned Friend convinced that sufficient Supply days are available to the Opposition to enable them to furnish the House with details of their alternative to the community charge before the bills are issued, or are the Opposition to be allowed to continue to hide under the dangerous maxim that their duty is merely to oppose, not to propose?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I fear that it will prove a difficult task for many of us to discover the answer to the question so rightly raised by my hon. Friend. We have had two debates on the general subject in the past few weeks and neither has added to our enlightenment about the Labour party's plans or proposals. Long may it remain like that, because the British people well understand it.

Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East) : As the Leader of the House knows, Scottish Question Time, which is due next week, is televised live by Scottish Television. The right hon. and learned Gentleman also knows that the Lothian health board has suggested that it should attract sponsorship for operations. However, is it true that the Scottish Office has purchased a commercial break for transmission during Scottish Question Time to suggest that people should have their gall bladders removed, sponsored by Michael Forsyth Associates, and get really stitched up?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : The hon. Gentleman's ingenuity may deserve some kind of commendation, but he should not raise that topic on the Floor of the House.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North) : May we have a debate next week on early-day motions 303 and--

Mr. Speaker : 303--one early-day motion, please.

Mr. Greenway : Well, 303 or 313--either will do.

Mr. Speaker : One or the other, but not both.

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