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House of Commons

Thursday 22 March 1990

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker -- in the Chair ]


Mr. Speaker : I regret to have to inform the House of the death of Allan Roberts, esquire, Member for Bootle, and I desire, on behalf of the House, to express our sense of the loss we have sustained and our sympathy with the relatives of the hon. Member.


Birmingham City Council (No. 2) Bill

(By Order) Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question proposed [26 February],

That the Bill be now considered.

Debate further adjourned till Thursday 29 March.

Exmouth Docks Bill

(By Order)

Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Thursday 29 March at Seven o'clock.

Mr. Speaker : As the remaining 11 Bills have blocking motions, with the leave of the House, I shall put them together.

Shard Bridge Bill

(By Order)

Vale of Glamorgan (Barry Harbour) Bill

[Lords] (By Order) Orders for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Thursday 29 March.

Adelphi Estate Bill

(By Order)

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question proposed [27 February],

That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Debate further adjourned till Thursday 29 March.

London Docklands Railway Bill

(By Order)

London Underground (Victoria) Bill

(By Order)

London Regional Transport (Penalty Fares) Bill

(By Order)

London Underground Bill

(By Order)

Cattewater Reclamation Bill

(By Order)

Humberside County Council Bill

(By Order)

Clyde Port Authority Bill

(By Order)

London Local Authorities (No. 2) Bill

[Lords] (By Order) Orders for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Thursday 29 March.

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Oral Answers to Questions


Special Constables

1. Mr. Key : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he has any plans to increase the number of special constables ; and if he will make a statement.

6. Mr. Pawsey : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement about the current level of special constable recruiting.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Peter Lloyd) : At the end of 1989, there were 15,589 special constables in England and Wales. I am very keen to see an increase. With that objective, there will be a national, centrally funded recruiting campaign and sympathetic consideration will be given to the possibility of a special payment, or bounty, on an experimental basis.

Mr. Key : That is good news and I congratulate my hon. Friend. Will he consider improving allowances? Many people feel that a bounty is not in keeping with the volunteer spirit of the specials. In what ways does my hon. Friend think that specials should be made more use of than at present?

Mr. Lloyd : My hon. Friend is right to imply that there is a difference of views about a bounty and that is why we are thinking about it thoroughly. If it can be useful in increasing the number of special constables, we should want to try it out. Expenses have been improved recently, but if my hon. Friend has any suggestions about out-of-pocket expenses that are not covered properly under the present system, I should like to hear them. He is also right in believing that not all forces use special constables as imaginatively as they might. Those that use them well get enormous benefit. I am thinking of the specials' particular role in crime prevention advice and in supporting neighbourhood watch schemes. My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to that.

Mr. Speaker : I remind the House that it is fairer to other hon. Members if one question is asked at a time. We then get further down the Order Paper.

Mr. Pawsey : I thank my hon. Friend for his full and complete reply, such as we have grown used to receiving from him. Will he comment a little further on recruiting, expecially among the ethnic communities? Will he also speculate on the improvements that might take place within the specials were their training to be stepped up? I understand that currently, they support the regular police, but they could do a great deal more if their training was a little deeper and more extensive than is currently the case.

Mr. Lloyd : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his opening remarks and I shall welcome them by being short rather than long in my answer. Much can be done on training, and the imaginative use that some forces have been able to make of the specials is a result of having trained them for those roles.

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Mr. Madden : Will the Minister give a firm assurance that the effort to recruit more special constables will not be allowed to dilute the efforts being made by all police forces to recruit from the ethnic minorities, as such recruitment remains extremely disappointing?

Mr. Lloyd : No, the effort will not be used in that way. The ethnic minorities are better represented among the special constables than in the police force at large. One characteristic of the special constabulary is that many of its members go on to become regular policemen. We have had some recruitment efforts among the ethnic minorities. I am thinking especially of Tooting, where the increase in numbers was large as a result. There is a great deal that can be done and in some places, it is being done. We are trying to urge other forces to copy that good example.

Mr. Salmond : Are there any plans to increase the number of special constables, to protect the Secretary of State for Scotland from the righteous anger of the Scottish people, after his failure to defend our interests in Cabinet and his unwillingness to come to the House to explain his position?

Mr. Lloyd : People in Scotland are much more law abiding and sensible than the hon. Gentleman implies.

Mr. Shersby : Is my hon. Friend aware that the Police Federation is strongly opposed to the introduction of bounties because it believes that specials would then be used as cheap labour in preference to the use of regular constables? Is my hon. Friend further aware that the federation would strongly support financial recompense to specials who lose earnings as a result of having to give evidence in court?

Mr. Lloyd : We are very much aware that that opinion is widespread in the Police Federation and that is why we would not begin to pay bounties to all special constables. If we moved ahead at all, we should want to experiment to see whether the idea was effective in recruiting and did not dilute the motives of those who join.

Mr. Sheerman : Is the Minister aware that the recruitment of specials is closely linked to final recruitment into the regular police force? Is he further aware that the Government's latest act, reneging on what many of us believe to be a sacred agreement on arbitration, will mean that the Government will be unable to recruit not only special constables, but any constables?

Mr. Lloyd : I do not think that that will have any effect on the recruitment of special constables, for reasons that have already been made clear. At present, special constables receive only out-of-pocket expenses. Therefore, the idea of rent allowances does not weigh with them at all.

Neighbourhood Watch

2. Mr. Carrington : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many neighbourhood watch schemes now operate in England and Wales.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Waddington) : At the end of December 1989 there were estimated to beover 81,000 neighbourhood watch schemes in England and Wales, covering more than 4 million households, compared with 64,000 at the end of December 1988--an increase of 26.5 per cent.

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Mr. Carrington : I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for that most impressive answer, which shows the great popularity and success of neighbourhood watch schemes. Does he agree that his answer shows the important role of such schemes in crime prevention, which justifies the encouragement that the police give to those schemes and the commitment of substantial police resources to ensure that they prosper and continue to provide the services that they have provided already?

Mr. Waddington : There is not the slightest doubt about the important role that neighbourhood watch schemes play in crime prevention. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. Eight schemes now operate in Fulham, covering more than 2,500 households, and I hope that there will be more schemes there shortly.

Mr. Maclennan : How is the information about neighbourhood watch schemes centrally collated? What is the measure of their effectiveness?

Mr. Waddington : I do not think that we have any difficulty in collating information as a result of inquiries made of the police. Obviously, the effect of particular schemes depends to a large extent on the enthusiasm of the participants. I could cite many examples of schemes where one can show without peradventure that after their being set up there was a decline in crime in the area, particularly in burglary.

Mr. Simon Coombs : Given my right hon. and learned Friend's natural and very proper support for neighbourhood watch schemes, can he justify to the House a cut in the Wiltshire constabulary's budget for vehicles, plant and equipment of more than £800,000 for next year, when that money could reasonably have been expected to do much to support neighbourhood watch schemes in my constituency?

Mr. Waddington : I can assure my hon. Friend that there has been an 80 per cent. rise in real terms in expenditure on vehicles, plant and maintenance since 1979. That is just one sign of the enormous increase in resources made available to the police since this Government came to office.

Mr. Corbett : While I welcome growing citizen interest in neighbourhood watch and business watch schemes, does the Home Secretary accept that they are no substitute for public demand to see more officers with their feet on the beat? Does he recall that that was a major finding of a recent Police Federation survey? How does he intend to respond to that clear expression of public opinion?

Mr. Waddington : The hon. Gentleman should make known his new enthusiasm for neighbourhood watch schemes to Labour authorities that have persistently obstructed the setting up of neighbourhood watch schemes in their area. I hope that he will go straight out of the Chamber and ring Cleveland county council and Stockton, Hartlepool and Langbaurgh borough councils. After he has done that and shown his determination to see more neighbourhood watch schemes set up, he can come back and ask further questions.

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Prisoners (Hepatitis B)

5. Mr. Alton : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what action he is taking to protect prisoners from contracting hepatitis B.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Mellor) : I refer the hon. Gentleman to replies given on 2 March 1990 to previous questions tabled by him. I have nothing to add to those answers.

Mr. Alton : After the sad death of one of my constituents from hepatitis B, does the Minister agree that now is the time to start collecting statistics from our prisons to establish the high incidence of hepatitis B among the prison population generally? Does he accept that as the disease is 100 times more virulent than HIV and as immunisation is available by vaccine, we should take urgent action to vaccinate prisoners and staff against it and to collect reliable statistics?

Mr. Mellor : I am aware of the sad case to which the hon. Gentleman refers. I should welcome the opportunity to discuss the matter with him at greater length, if he cares to come to see me. We take the most careful medical advice from the prison medical service and act on its advice in any cases where, for instance, it advises vaccination either of staff or of prisoners, if a vaccine is available. I shall be only too happy to discuss all the details of the matter with the hon. Gentleman. He is right to be worried about the issue, on which I assure him that the prison medical service is particularly active.

Mr. Barry Field : Will my hon. and learned Friend confirm that the recommendations of the chief inspector of prisons on national prison hospitals, with regard to hepatitis B and HIV, have been fully implemented and recognised?

Mr. Mellor : Yes, indeed. We take seriously the professional advice that we receive and, in particular, the role of the chief inspector of prisons, whose job is to cast an objective eye over that and all other aspects of running the prison service.

Mr. Ashley : As the Minister is so ready to take advice, will he also consider the advice of the joint committee on vaccination, which recommends vaccinating all high-risk people, including staff and prisoners?

Mr. Mellor : As the right hon. Gentleman will be aware, it all turns on the definition of high risk. We certainly have a policy of taking advice from the prison medical service. Anyone whom it wishes to see vaccinated as part of its clinical discretion, and who agrees to be vaccinated, can be. It is always a matter of judgment how far one should go in categorising people independently of the individual judgment of a medical officer. I repeat that we are willing to have our arrangements tested against any independent advice to which hon. Members may have access.


7. Miss Emma Nicholson : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what is the current prison population ; what it was one year ago ; and what projections he has made for the prison population over the next five years.

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Mr. Mellor : The prison population in England and Wales on 16 March 1990 was 47,115. The corresponding figure for 17 March 1989 was 49, 837, a reduction of just over 2,700.

Projections published last November, which are in the process of being revised, suggest that the prison population will rise steadily over the next five years to reach 58,200 in 1994-95. The year 1989 has, however, seen an encouraging downturn in the prison population--the average population being some 1,300 fewer than in 1988. Accordingly, the revised prison population projections--due to be published later this spring--will, of course, reflect that fall.

Miss Nicholson : Given that we have an unacceptably high prison population in the United Kingdom, the results of which I see in Dartmoor prison, what steps is my hon. and learned Friend taking to ensure that the lowest number of people are sent to prison, while reflecting the seriousness of the crimes committed, and that we are not merely falling into the habit of sending people to prison because we have no better way of dealing with them?

Mr. Mellor : As my hon. Friend knows, no Government have done more than this one to develop non-custodial penalties that offer the courts a wide range of viable alternatives to custody. That process has been taken a stage further in my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State's recent White Paper. My hope and belief is that as further arrangements become available, the courts will make increasing use of them so that the prison population will increasingly comprise only those who undoubtedly, on any judgment, deserve imprisonment. It will always be a difficult balance to strike, but we are taking great steps in that proper direction.

Mr. Gale : Will my hon. and learned Friend take this opportunity to reaffirm publicly that community service, as proposed in the White Paper, will not be seen or used as a soft option to imprisonment? Will he also reaffirm that there is no question of anybody who has been convicted of a violent crime being allowed to remain on the loose in the community and that, when it is used, community service will be rigorous?

Mr. Mellor : The first point that needs to be made absolutely clear is that the courts have ample powers to punish violent offenders. Most people will continue to believe, as we do, that violent offenders will usually merit a custodial sentence for the protection of the public. However, equally, we have nearly 20 years' experience of community service. Community service is rigorous : it means work for the community's benefit. Under the guidance of the Minister of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten), national standards are now being promulgated. Our community service scheme leads the world. It is not a soft option. It ensures that those convicted of offences put something back into the community.

Mr. Randall : On the question about the current prison population, is not the Minister ashamed of the Government's performance when dealing with young remand inmates, some of whom, according to the chief inspector of prisons, are living in unacceptable conditions in prison, and being denied sufficient education and exercise? Some are even locked up for 20 hours a day. What does the Minister say to that?

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Mr. Mellor : First, nobody is remanded in custody without the courts being satisfied that that person cannot safely be left at liberty. Remand should be an option of last resort. To begin with, therefore, those youngsters are in remand because of things that they are alleged to have done and because the courts lack confidence in their ability to behave themselves while awaiting trail.

Secondly, it is all very well for the hon. Gentleman to rush to judgment on such matters, but no Government have done more than this Government in building new prisons and refurbishing old ones. Ten years ago we inherited the most run down prison system in Europe as a result of the persistent and flagrant neglect of the previous Labour Government. That cannot be reversed overnight.

Remand Prisoners

8. Mr. Hind : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what is the current number of remand prisoners held in police cells ; and what it was one year ago.

Mr. Mellor : On Friday 16 March, there were no remand prisoners held in police cells in England and Wales. That compares with 182 people held on 17 March 1989, most of whom were on remand. I am very glad to be able to say that the measures that my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Hurd), the previous Home Secretary, introduced to overcome the problem of the need to hold prisoners in police cells for lengthy periods of time have proved a success. My right hon. and learned Friend the present Home Secretary is determined to see that this success is maintained.

Mr. Hind : Will my hon. and learned Friend congratulate the prison service on achieving the end of that use of police cells? How are his deliberations on the use of private companies to construct remand centres progressing? Does he agree that there are several good models in the United States, where the remand centres are located in cities, close to the courts and to the families who wish to visit the prisoners, and much more convenient for the purposes of transportation? When will my hon. and learned Friend be able to tell us that he has reached a verdict on those considerations?

Mr. Mellor : Obviously, it is important that, as far as possible, no prisoners are held outside purpose-built prisons. I am glad to say that as a result of a combination of factors--not least the Government's commitment and willingness, unlike the Labour Government, to make resources available- -it has been possible to achieve that. Private remand prisons are under active consideration and I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary can make a statement before too long.

Birmingham Pub Bombings

9. Mr. Harry Barnes : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received from Birmingham city council on the Birmingham pub bombings.

10. Mr. Mullin : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he has sought the opinion of the Lord Chief Justice on the new evidence in the Birmingham pub bombings case.

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Mr. Waddington : I am not aware of recent representations from Birmingham city council about the Birmingham pub bombings case. I have not sought the opinion of the Lord Chief Justice on the Birmingham pub bombings case.

Mr. Barnes : I am a little surprised by that answer, because I thought that the right hon. and learned Gentleman had received a delegation from Birmingham. What is the purpose of this further, fifth and, I hope, final police inquiry, when it is understood by the Home Office, whole sections of the police force and the judiciary, that there will be eventual freedom for the Birmingham Six? In those circumstances, is not it disturbing that the Birmingham Six should remain imprisoned and branded as guilty when procedures are being set in motion for, I hope, their release?

Mr. Waddington : Justice demands that innocent men should go free ; it also demands that guilty men should stay in gaol. Claims have been made, and the object of the exercise is to determine whether there is any substance to them. I have asked the chief constable of the West Midlands police to report on a number of specific points that were put to me recently, and he has decided to ask the Devon and Cornwall police to consider those matters. The basic question is still whether the representations made to me constitute new evidence relevant to the safety of the convictions.

Mr. Mullin : Will the Home Secretary confirm that one of the principal obstacles to the case being referred back to the Court of Appeal is the implacable hostility of the Lord Chief Justice? Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that the resignation or the early retirement of the Lord Chief Justice would be a small price to pay for justice being achieved in this case?

Mr. Waddington : That is one of the most preposterous and irresponsible statements that I have ever heard in the House. Incidentally, I am amazed by the sheer irresponsibility of the hon. Gentleman who, while protesting his concern for the Birmingham Six, has steadfastly refused to reveal material that he claims would prove their innocence. Must we wait for another novel from him?

Mr. Alexander : Will my right hon. and learned Friend accept the thanks of many Conservative Members for the open-minded way in which he accepted the new evidence presented to him before Christmas? Is he aware that the fact that someone else will be investigating the matter with an open mind is largely welcome? If something sinister appears, will he reconsider asking the Court of Appeal to examine the case again, once the Devon and Cornwall police have finished their inquiries?

Mr. Waddington : I am grateful for the way in which my hon. Friend put his question. As I said, the basic question is whether the matters that have been put to me constitute new evidence that casts doubt on the safety of the convictions. If, as a result of those inquiries, matters are put to me that convince me that new evidence casts doubt on the convictions, I shall take appropriate action.

Mr. Gow : Can my right hon. and learned Friend tell the House the nature of the fresh evidence that has been provided and upon which he has asked the police to

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report? Can he assure the House that the police will conduct the further inquiry as rapidly as possible, consistent with examining the evidence thoroughly?

Mr. Waddington : I wish that I could help my hon. Friend on his first point, but I do not think that it would be proper for me publicly to disclose all the matters that I have asked the chief constable of the West Midlands to consider. However, I take my hon. Friend's second point--these are important matters that should be dealt with as quickly as possible, and I am sure that the police realise that.

Mr. Mallon : Given the various disturbing factors that have come to light since the original jury trial of the Birmingham Six, will the Home Secretary say whether, in his professional experience and judgment, the new evidence leads him to believe that if it had been given to the original jury they would have found differently? Will he be guided by the informed opinion of Lords Scarman and Devlin and concede that there may well have been a miscarriage of justice in this case?

Mr. Waddington : I think that I have already answered that question. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman realises that the difficult task that I have to perform when material is put before me is to come to a conclusion about whether it constitutes new evidence which casts doubt on the safety of the convictions. That is the task which I am trying to perform to the best of my ability.

Mr. Dickens : Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that there is a simple answer to all this? If the Birmingham Six are innocent, and I say "if" because I have no way of judging, would not the simple answer be for those who are campaigning for them to be released--the IRA--to supply us with the names of those who did the bombing?

Mr. Waddington : One does not have to go as far as the IRA--one can ask the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin). He says that he knows all about these matters, but he has steadfastly and irresponsibly refused to give the authorities the information that he says will help.

Mr. Hattersley : First, I congratulate the Home Secretary on the decision that he announced yesterday--not least because there is a general wish throughout the country, particularly in Birmingham, for the men or women who were genuinely responsible for the pub bombings to be convicted and imprisoned, rather than those whom it is increasingly believed are not guilty. Does he understand that having set out on that course--I repeat my congratulations on that--there can be no going back and that having begun with a limited inquiry he now cannot avoid a comprehensive and complete inquiry? He should understand that his impartiality on this matter will be better understood and appreciated if he attempts to answer questions from Opposition Members in a way that is appropriate to a Home Secretary.

Mr. Waddington : I imagine that the right hon. Gentleman's last reference had nothing to do with the Birmingham Six, but was a reference to my reply about neighbourhood watch schemes--[ Hon. Members :-- "No!"] If it referred to the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), I certainly do not need to defend myself about that--it is time that the hon. Member recognised his

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responsibility as a Member of this House. I should have thought the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) would also know that.

Mr. Cryer : The Home Secretary should sit down--he does not own the place.

Mr. Speaker : Order. We often hear things in the House with which we do not agree.

Mr. Waddington : I shall address myself now to the question put to me by the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook, which might have been better if he had not gone on to subsequent matters. The issue is a simple one : material has been put before me and I must determine whether it constitutes new evidence that casts doubt on the convictions. I am entitled to seek what advice I can in order to come to a proper conclusion about the matter. That is what I was about when I addressed certain questions to the chief constable of the West Midlands. One should not conclude from that that it is necessary to have another inquiry.

Juvenile Crime

16. Mr. Amess : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a further statement on the progress of his policy on developing parental responsibility for juvenile crime.

Mr. Waddington : Our proposals were set out in the White Paper "Crime, Justice and Protecting the Public", published in February. We intend to strengthen courts' powers to require parents to attend court with their children and to bind the parents over. The parents' means would be taken into account in fixing the level of any fines for the children's offences and parents would normally be ordered by the courts to pay the fines. We have already received some encouraging responses to the proposals.

Mr. Amess : Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it is necessary to make irresponsible parents more conscious of their responsibility for the criminal activities of their children? Does he also agree that, as the peak age of offending is 15, it is not good enough for some parents to expect schools to be totally responsible for the discipline of their children out of school hours?

Mr. Waddington : My hon. Friend is right. It is a very sad fact that young people sometimes appear in court with no parent alongside them. The courts ought to have a duty to order parents to attend unless it would obviously be unreasonable so to do. The whole House, I am sure, will agree that in deciding what is an appropriate financial penalty to impose on a young person the court should have power to bear in mind the parents' means.

Mr. Heffer : Would that also apply to Members of this House? Over the years, children of many hon. Members--on both sides, but especially on the Conservative side--have got themselves into drug problems, and so on, through no fault of the parents, Members of Parliament probably being away from home all week? Will a Member of Parliament be held responsible for everything that his children do? I have never heard such a preposterous suggestion?

Mr. Waddington : The hon. Gentleman should look at the specific proposals. If he examines them individually he

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will find it very hard indeed to quarrel with them. Obviously there are cases--probably many cases--in which children get into trouble and it is quite impossible to say that the fault lies with the parents, but equally, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman will agree, it is preposterous for parents whose children get into trouble to say that it is nothing to do with them and that they need not even bother to turn up at court.

Mr. Norris : I welcome the accent placed by my right hon. and learned Friend on parental responsibility, but I wonder whether he agrees that there is a place for parental responsibility in relation to community service orders. My right hon. and learned Friend was right to strengthen community service orders and to increase their importance in the treatment of young people who have committed crimes. Might not an obligation be imposed on parents to ensure their children's attendance under the scheme?

Mr. Waddington : I am not sure about the obligation, but there is a very strong case for expecting those responsible for community service orders to make it clear to the parents what is involved and to encourage them to take the very closest interest in the punishment being meted out to their children.

Hull Prison

22. Mr. Sheerman : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what timetable he intends to introduce for the removal of juveniles from Hull B wing.

Mr. Mellor : Some relief may be provided by a new local authority secure unit due to open in Hull in mid-1991, and a new remand centre at Everthorpe will be ready early in 1992. Until these are available, there is no feasible alternative to the use of B wing at Hull prison for juveniles on remand.

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