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House of Commons

Tuesday 9 June 1992

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Madam Speaker-- in the Chair ]

Oral Answers to Questions


Rural Employment

1. Mr. Kirkwood : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what steps she proposes to promote more employment opportunities in rural areas ; and if she will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Patrick McLoughlin) : The Government work with a number of agencies such as the Rural Development Commission and Scottish Enterprise to promote enterprise, economic diversity and employment in rural areas. Using the Employment Service and training and enterprise councils, we have a range of facilities and programmes for people in rural areas.

Mr. Kirkwood : Is the Minister aware of the locally derived initiative that Scottish Borders Enterprise has put together, called "Packaged Training", which is particularly appropriate for rural areas given the distances involved in getting people to training opportunities? Is he also aware that, this year, the budget of Scottish Borders Enterprise for that purpose has been cut from £530, 000 to £380,000? Last year, 180 people were given an opportunity to retrain, but, sadly, that number will be cut because the budget for this year has already been used. Will the Minister attempt to find ways of providing extra funds so that such employment opportunities can continue to be provided in the future?

Mr. McLoughlin : As I said, we provide a range of facilities to help in rural areas. The points that the hon. Gentleman raised are matters for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, and I shall ensure that they are brought to his attention.

Mr. Moss : Will my hon. Friend take this opportunity to praise the work of enterprise agencies, particularly those in rural areas such as the Fens Business Enterprise Trust in my constituency? Is he aware that in the current economic climate, funding for such enterprise agencies has become increasingly difficult to obtain? Will he give some consideration to providing more centralised funding to allow that good work to continue?

Mr. McLoughlin : I am not sure that more centralised funding is the way to go about the problem. Perhaps a better way to proceed is to provide money to the TECs, as we have done in the past two years, so that they can make

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their own decisions. That is probably preferable to the Government's making more centralised decisions. I shall, however, consider my hon. Friend's suggestion.

Youth Training

2. Mr. Bryan Davies : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what assessment she has made of the quality and quantity of training places available to young people.

The Secretary of State for Employment (Mrs. Gillian Shephard) : I am satisfied that, across the country as a whole, the quality and quantity of youth training places are meeting the needs of young people and those of the economy.

Mr. Davies : I congratulate the Secretary of State on her appointment, but is she aware that when the chairmen of the north-west regional TECs sought a new Secretary of State, they did so because they wanted increased funds for training? What is her justification for the cuts in financial provision for each youth training place in Oldham and for the cuts in unit costs for training places throughout the north-west?

Mrs. Shephard : I met the chairmen of the north-west TECs recently, and we discussed a number of matters, including funding and flexibility. The hon. Gentleman will understand that there has been an unjustifiable variation in the unit costs for youth training places--a variation of £30 per place--and I think that it was right to bring those costs closer together.

Sir Anthony Durant : I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her appointment. What representations has she received from Labour Members about the youth training scheme?

Mrs. Shephard : Very few, because my hon. Friend will know that Labour Members have consistently set their face against youth training ; and I believe that the Transport and General Workers Union, which sponsors many Labour Members, voted to boycott youth training. That scandalous state of affairs has not been criticised by Opposition Members.

Mr. Leighton : In welcoming the Secretary of State to her new duties, may I inquire whether she has read the excellent pamphlet published by Youth Aid, the Children's Society and 30 other organisations, entitled "A Broken Promise : A Failure of Youth Training Policy"? It makes it clear that the youth training guarantee is not being delivered and that right across the country, including my constituency, thousands of young people are leaving school with no jobs, no training places and no benefits? What will she do to improve youth training?

Mrs. Shephard : I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I have read that important report, and that of the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux. I must set the concerns expressed in those reports in context ; 300,000 young people are successfully engaged in youth training. The Government will ensure a guaranteed place for every young person and no TEC has been or will be prevented from meeting that guarantee by a lack of resources. However, if there is a problem in the machinery, we shall look into it.

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Mr. Patrick Thompson : May I, as a Norfolk Member, also congratulate my right hon. Friend on her new appointment? Can she confirm that it is the Government's intention to ensure that every young person not in full-time education from the age of 16 has a training place? Will she visit Norwich at the earliest opportunity to check whether that policy is being carried out to the full?

Mrs. Shephard : I confirm that there is a guaranteed place for every young person who needs one. I intend to visit Norwich shortly.

Mr. Fatchett : I add my congratulations to the Secretary of State on her appointment. Does she recognise that an equally important statistic is not the 300,000 young people on youth training places but the 100,000 who are struggling to find places? Is she also aware that the report produced by my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton), the former Chairman of the Select Committee, showed that half the TECs were having difficulty meeting the youth guarantee? Is it not a fact that the Secretary of State has been misled by her civil servants, or that she is ignorant about what is happening to youth training--the simple fact being that the guarantee is not being delivered by the Government?

Mrs. Shephard : I repeat that the Government do and will ensure that there is a guaranteed place for every young person. I accept that there is some waiting for places, but that is to be expected, given the importance of placing young people in training that suits their needs. As I said, if there is a problem with machinery, I shall certainly look into it. The machinery should not fail young people.

Disabled Employees

3. Mr. Thurnham : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what representations she has received about the employment of people with disabilities ; and if she will make a statement.

The Minister of State, Department of Employment (Mr. Michael Forsyth) : We have received a number of representations about the help that we provide for people with disabilities, including the sheltered placement scheme, the new placing assessment and counselling teams and the training provision available through TECs.

Mr. Thurnham : I congratulate my hon. Friend on his appointment. Will he make it one of his first priorities to examine closely why the public sector falls below the private sector in giving jobs to the disabled? Why does the BBC have one of the worst records of any public organisation, employing only 71 registered disabled among its 25,000 employees? Will he ask the BBC to give free television licences to the disabled until it starts to co-operate with his Department?

Mr. Forsyth : I am sure that the BBC will have broadcast my hon. Friend's message, which I hope will be received. As for the differences in employment practice between the public and private sectors, it is true that, in general, the quotas are least well met by the public sector. But I should say, in defence of both sectors, that the number of people registered as disabled is about 1 per cent. of the work force and the quota is 3 per cent., making it a mathematical impossibility for employers to achieve their legal obligation.

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Mr. Tom Clarke : Does it not concern the Minister that in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, South (Mr. McMaster) last week, the Prime Minister confirmed that there was not one disabled person working at No. 10 Downing street? Before the Government lecture the BBC or anybody else, will they put their own house in order?

Mr. Forsyth : I shall see that the hon. Gentleman's comments are drawn to the attention of the Prime Minister.

EC Employment

4. Sir Michael Neubert : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what policies she has to promote employment for British people within the EC.

Mr. Michael Forsyth : We are working to give our people better access to jobs in other EC countries by improving the system for exchanging job vacancies between member states, securing mutual recognition of qualifications and providing information about living and working elsewhere in the EC.

Sir Michael Neubert : With British people keeping fitter and living longer, is it not against both the spirit of the times and natural justice that the European Commission should limit applicants to its posts to people aged 35 or under? Will my hon. Friend do all that he can to root out that blatant example of Brussels ageism?

Mr. Forsyth : I agree. Indeed, the first speech that I made in my new post was on the subject of ageism. It is astonishing that the European Commission should be one of the worst practitioners of ageism. If one wants to apply for a job as a dishwasher or an administrator with the European Commission, one must be under the age of 35. On that basis, I hope that the House will forgive me for pointing out that most of us in this Chamber would be considered too old for the job.

I agree with my hon. Friend that the policy of ageism is not only undesirable but stupid. It diminishes the supply of talent to the economy throughout the Community, and I hope that efforts made to combat ageism will be taken on board by employers throughout the United Kingdom and by the European Commission.

Mr. McLeish : I also welcome the Minister to his new position in the employment team. The whole of Scotland rejoices in the fact that he has now been moved from the Scottish Office. Unfortunately, however, he will now visit upon the unemployed and those who need training the right-wing policies that have done so much damage in Scotland.

Is the Minister aware that, between September 1979 and September 1991, the number of people employed in Britain fell by 13,000? Why do the Government have the most appalling employment record in post-war Britain? Does he accept that, with fewer people working in this country, his policies have failed? We now need urgent action to tackle not only the growing problem of training but the scandal of rising unemployment and the reduction in employment.

Mr. Forsyth : I am sure that the reasons for my moving from the Scottish Office, where I was responsible for education, to Employment were the same as the reasons

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for the hon. Gentleman's move from Scottish spokesman on education to employment. The hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that both of us now enjoy a wider brief.

On the hon. Gentleman's point about unemployment in the European Community, surely he would agree with those of us who argue that as there are 15.5 million people unemployed in the Community, our first priority must be to ensure that there are measures to create jobs and get people back to work. What a pity that Opposition Members support so many of the highly damaging proposals coming out of Europe which would destroy jobs in Britain and throughout the Community.

Mr. Rowe : I welcome my hon. Friend's earlier comments about ageism. Does he agree that one of the great difficulties for many people trying to keep employment is the working of the pensions system, which makes it profitable for employers to get rid of people aged 50 and above, and makes it difficult for such people to find employment elsewhere?

Mr. Forsyth : My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to such difficulties. There are ways round those problems and we have asked managers and jobcentres, in discussion with employers, to draw to employers' attention the benefits of employing older workers and some of the ways round the difficulties to which my hon. Friend has referred.

Sheffield TEC

5. Mr. Bill Michie : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what proportion of those participating in the Sheffield TEC programmes successfully find full-time employment.

Mr. McLoughlin : In the Sheffield TEC area in the year to July 1991, some 65 per cent. of youth training leavers and 38 per cent. of employment training leavers who completed their training were in full-time employment.

Mr. Michie : The Government have been claiming to have met the guarantee month after month. Will they wake up to the fact that those courses are inadequate and not available to most people, and that there is not enough fund money and grants for people to afford to take the training courses--let alone get a job at the end of them?

Mr. McLoughlin : No. The Government will take no lectures from the Labour party on the provision of training, about which it did absolutely nothing when in government. This Government are committed to providing training--a concept totally alien to the action taken by the Labour party when it was last in office.

Mr. Riddick : Does my hon. Friend agree that employment opportunities for people participating in the Sheffield training and enterprise council courses will be severely reduced if the 48-hour working week is imposed on British industry by the European Commission? Will my hon. Friend assure the House that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will fight those proposals and that there will be no compromise?

Mr. McLoughlin : I can assure my hon. Friend that the issue he has raised is in the forefront of our minds. Obviously, the proposals will be negotiated and discussions will take place at Community level. We hope to obtain satisfactory arrangements for the United Kingdom.

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6. Mr. Worthington : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what plans the Government have to reduce the level of unemployment ; and if she will make a statement.

Mrs. Gillian Shephard : The Government's role is to ensure a sound and stable economic framework within which enterprise can flourish and the battle against inflation can be won. We also wish to ensure that the Department's programmes give the highest priority to getting unemployed people back to work as quickly as possible.

Mr. Worthington : Is the Secretary of State aware that today the voluntary organisation, the Strathclyde poverty alliance, has found that one in 10 of 16 and 17-year-olds in Strathclyde--5,500 young people--are not receiving the Government's youth guarantee? When will the Secretary of State open the books and let us have a full investigation of what is going on in the training and enterprise councils and local enterprise companies throughout the country? Does she agree that the Government have broken their promise?

Mrs. Shephard : As I have already said, there is a guarantee of a place for young people. If machinery is failing young people, we need to know about it. I shall certainly look into the matter raised by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Butterfill : Will my right hon. Friend acknowledge the important contribution to the British economy made by part-time workers, particularly in the leisure and tourism industries in constituencies such as mine? Does she accept that it would be uniquely damaging to that industry were we to accept the part-time working directive supported by the Labour party, as it would cause untold damage to industries such as leisure and tourism?

Mrs. Shephard : Yes, I agree. A number of the policies supported by the Labour party would increase unemployment. In this country we need a flexible labour market, and opportunities for part-time work and women returners. We shall continue to fight for a flexible labour market.

Ms. Estelle Morris : Is the Minister aware that my constituency of Birmingham, Yardley recently suffered the highest increase in unemployment of any of the 12 Birmingham constituencies--a most unfortunate first for my constituency, which is not a region of traditionally high unemployment? Does she agree that that statistic shows the depth of the Tory recession and the extent of the Government's attack on manufacturing jobs in the west midlands and Birmingham?

Mrs. Shephard : Unemployment is certainly difficult for the individuals and families involved. Tackling unemployment and improving the skills and confidence of the work force are major elements in the Government's inner-city policy. I feel certain that the programmes provided by the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of Employment will help the hon. Lady's constituents to return to work as quickly as possible.

Mr. Robert B. Jones : Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the great enemies of employment is over-regulation of the labour market? Will she therefore

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not only reiterate her opposition to the idea of a 48-hour maximum week and all the other rubbish from Brussels, but recommit herself to deregulation here in the United Kingdom?

Mrs. Shephard : My hon. Friend well knows that the Government are committed to a deregulated labour market. We have made it clear from the outset that the damaging working time directive is unnecessary and has been produced on totally unjustifiable grounds as a health and safety measure.

Mr. Blair : I wish the right hon. Lady every strength in her new position, especially in her relations with the Treasury, where I suspect she will need it most. Does she agree that the most pressing problem that she faces is rising unemployment? If urgent action is not taken, hundreds of thousands more people will face the dole this summer. I urge her to show that the change in her Department is one of substance as well of image. She should abandon the dismal failure of employment action, reverse the policy of running down training for the unemployed, and provide the job and training opportunities that the country would support and that the unemployed desperately need.

Mrs. Shephard : I thank the hon. Gentleman for his good wishes. I wonder whether this is his last but one Question Time in his present position and whether before long he, too, will take advantage of retraining opportunities. I remind him that the Department offers almost 1 million places on employment and training programmes this year, an increase of 100,000 on last year. We are increasing spending on youth training ; but, above all, it is the economic framework, to which we are committed and the hon. Gentleman's party is not, which will increase employment opportunities fast.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman : I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her appointment. I am sure that she will agree that women Members are doing pretty well. Will she bear it in mind that women and men with disabilities are more punctual and have fewer days off than men? Could that fact be drawn to the attention of those who seek to engage personnel?

Mrs. Shephard : I thank my hon. Friend for her good wishes. She is right to draw the attention of employers and others to people with disabilities. That is a particular responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People, who will be taking forward policies in that area.

Labour Statistics

7. Mr. Austin Mitchell : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what was the level of male unemployment in Grimsby (a) in 1982 and (b) at the latest available date.

Mr. McLoughlin : In June 1983, the earliest date for which figures are available, on the unadjusted basis there were 8,380 men claiming unemployment-related benefits in the Grimsby travel-to-work area. There has been a reduction of 10.4 per cent., leaving a total of 7, 507 in April 1992.

Mr. Mitchell : Is it not disgraceful that in the second Government- induced recession unemployment is almost up to the level that it attained in the first Government-induced recession, at about one man in six in Grimsby? Is

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it not also disgraceful that at such a time the Government are cutting spending on training? Instead of praying for a recovery, which cannot come at present interest rates, the Government should expand the economy and improve spending on training and the quality of its provision.

Mr. McLoughlin : That is an obvious example of a hon. Member who prepared his supplementary before he heard the answer to his main question and stuck to it irrespective of the main answer. As I have said, there was a reduction of 10.4 per cent. in the year to April 1992, the year about which the hon. Gentleman asked. We really expect better of him.

9. Mr. Hinchliffe : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what has been the change in the level of unemployment since 1979 ; and if she will make a statement.

Mrs. Gillian Shephard : Seasonally adjusted unemployment in the United Kingdom rose by 1.607 million between April 1979 and April 1992. It is still about 430,000 less than at its peak in July 1986.

Mr. Hinchliffe : I remind the Secretary of State that, as a direct result of Government policy, about 20,000 mining-related jobs have been lost in the Wakefield district during that period. When will the RECHAR and European social fund programmes commence in mid-Yorkshire, and when will local authorities be advised of the details of the schemes that are to be included? What assessment has been made of the implications of Government proposals for the privatisation of coal in areas such as the Wakefield district, not just in terms of miners' jobs but for industries such as mining engineering?

Mrs. Shephard : Jobs in manufacturing, as in all other sectors, have obviously been affected by the downturn in the economy. As the hon. Gentleman knows, manufacturing's share of GDP has declined under all Governments. The programmes that he mentions are matters for my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, and I shall draw his attention to the hon. Gentleman's comments.

Mrs. Peacock : Can my right hon. Friend tell the House what percentage of the United Kingdom population is in work and how that compares with our EC neighbours?

Mrs. Shephard : The interesting thing is that 70 per cent. of people of working age in our population are in employment, which is higher than the EC average of 58 per cent.

Mr. Malcolm Bruce : Does the Secretary of State accept that that is unhealthily complacent of the Government? Will she accept that it is not just a waste for individuals but a waste of resources to keep people unemployed, as it costs £8,600 for each person in loss of benefit and taxation? Will the Government introduce schemes that will put people back to work, build up our manufacturing base and help to achieve the Government's own programme of maintaining services and cutting taxes?

Mrs. Shephard : There is no complacency in the Government. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the best way to put people out of work is to pursue the sort of policies that he and his hon. Friends supported up to the election. The programmes in place and mounted by my Department, the Employment Service and employment

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training, are the best possible ways of getting people back to work as quickly as possible. I also remind the hon. Gentleman that two thirds of all the newly unemployed leave unemployment within six months. It is down to the Employment Service to help them to achieve that.

Mr. Jenkin : In seeking to create employment opportunities in the United Kingdom and in resisting, rightly, the European "shirking" hours directive, will my right hon. Friend consider using all means at her disposal and will she help the House to defy the European Court if necessary?

Mrs. Shephard : As I have already said, the United Kingdom has made it clear from the outset that we resist the directive and consider it to be unjustified. We believe that it will impose liabilities on our labour market that we do not need and do not want. I remind my hon. Friend that it is being brought forward, unjustifiably, under the qualified majority voting procedure. On legal challenge, I rule nothing in and nothing out at this stage.

Employment Appeal Tribunals

10. Mr. Eastham : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what is the average time taken for employment appeal tribunals to deal with cases.

Mr. Michael Forsyth : The average length of time taken for a case to reach a hearing by the employment appeal tribunals is four months in Scotland and two years in England and Wales-- [Interruption.] Like hon. Members, I am very concerned about the delays in England and Wales and we are taking action to help reduce them.

Mr. Eastham : I thank the Minister for that reply. The Equal Opportunities Commission considered a case against Lloyds Bank. The case was heard in September 1989 and succeeded. Lloyds appealed and there was a hearing in February 1992. The parties are still awaiting the judgment. If, at the end of the day, the Equal Opportunities Commission succeeds, it will not even receive interest on the money to which it is entitled.

Mr. Forsyth : The hon. Gentleman will understand that I cannot comment on specific cases. However, I agree that such delays and other current delays are unacceptable. We have made arrangements for additional judge time to be made available through my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor. We will also be introducing legislative proposals to allow the employment appeal tribunals president to sit alone in certain cases. Also, additional court and administrative staff have been appointed.

Sir Dudley Smith : Will my hon. Friend remind those who bring cases of their responsibilities? Is he aware that a firm in my constituency has twice within recent years been taken before a tribunal only to find that the appellant did not turn up? Considerable legal costs were incurred by the firm concerned.

Mr. Forsyth : I am sure that my hon. Friend will forgive me if I do not comment on a specific case. It must be in the interests of good industrial relations and good practice if the EAT procedure operates smoothly and effectively. I am sure that there may be something to be learnt from experience north of the border.

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Mr. Skinner : If the Minister is going to review the scandalous waiting time of more than two years for appeals, will he consider reverting to what used to happen when people who had been in work for six months were allowed to appeal to an industrial tribunal instead of having to wait until they had been in work for two years? Do that as well.

Mr. Forsyth : The hon. Gentleman, uncharacteristically, seems to be confusing two things. The question is on employment appeal tribunals, and I have given an assurance in that respect. He is tempting me to go into a wholly different area--a temptation which I shall resist.

Training and Enterprise Councils

11. Mr. Paice : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what her policy is towards training and enterprise councils which build up reserves from their block grant.

Mr. McLoughlin : TECs are able to earn surpluses from increased efficiency. They are required by their contract with us to use such surpluses to further the objectives set out in their corporate and business plans.

Mr. Paice : I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. I am sure that he will agree that, in some parts of the country, training providers experience difficulty in finding the workplace element of YT. They therefore keep trainees in workshops for longer, which costs more. Will he undertake to encourage TECs to recognise the extra costs on training providers, rather than using the money to build up sometimes unnecessarily large reserves?

Mr. McLoughlin : I have received representations on this matter. The TECs' contracts make clear the priority that is attached to their training objectives. A significant part of their funding relates to trainees' achievements, which is an incentive to invest in improving the quality of their training provision. However, I shall seriously consider my hon. Friend's point.

Ms. Coffey : Is the Minister aware that engineering training places for young people in Stockport are vacant because High Peak TEC cannot afford to fund them? Does he think that that reflects the Government's failure to provide proper training opportunities for young people and to provide them with the skills that they can invest in industry for the future?

Mr. McLoughlin : A TEC must consider what is required in its area. I am not aware of the specific problem to which the hon. Lady refers, but I shall consider it. However, TECs are best suited to decide what is required in their area. No one would say that they should provide training places if people do not want to attend such courses.

Employment Law

12. Mr. Duncan-Smith : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment how she will strengthen the rights of individuals, in the field of employment law, in accordance with citizens charter proposals.

Mr. Michael Forsyth : We intend to introduce legislation to give individuals new rights to restrain unlawfully organised industrial action in the public and

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private sectors. In addition, the legislation will ensure that individuals' consent is required before deductions for trades union subscriptions are made from their pay and will give individuals greater freedom to belong to the union of their choice.

Mr. Duncan-Smith : May I take this opportunity to congratulate my hon. Friend on his recent appointment? In the light of the recent report in the Sunday Mirror, in which the deputy general secretary of the National Union of Public Employees made a statement to the Labour party--"No say, no pay"--does not he think it disgraceful that he should be able to threaten the future employment

Madam Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman's question is not relevant to the question on the Order Paper. We shall move on to the next question.

Community Work

13. Mr. David Evans : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what plans she has for introducing a community work requirement for the payment of unemployment benefit.

Mrs. Gillian Shephard : We have no such plans.

Mr. Evans : I thank the Secretary of State for that reply. Is she aware that many of the long-term unemployed are layabouts? They should have to do community work before receiving benefit. The taxpayers are sick and tired of financing these layabouts. Will she introduce new legislation so that for every year that these layabouts are on the dole one week's employment benefit is stopped? Will she introduce that legislation, because after the next election the lot opposite are going to be the new long-term unemployed?

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