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House of Commons

Tuesday 17 May 1994

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[ Madam Speaker-- -- in the Chair ]


For Eastleigh, in the room of the Stephen David Wyatt Milligan Esquire, deceased.--[ Mr. Sydney Chapman. ]

For Barking, in the room of the Josephine Richardson, deceased. For Bradford, South, in the room of the George Robert Cryer Esquire, deceased.

For Dagenham, in the room of the Bryan Charles Gould Esquire. [Manor of Northstead]

For Newham, North-East, in the room of the Ronald Leighton Esquire, deceased.--[ Mr. Derek Foster. ]


Greater Manchester (Light Rapid Transit System) Bill [

Lords ]

Read the Third time, and passed, with amendments.

Oral Answers to Questions


Employment, Warwickshire --

1. Mr. Pawsey : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment how many people are employed in the Warwickshire travel-to-work area currently ; and what was the figure in 1990-91.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Miss Ann Widdecombe) : The latest available estimates are for September 1991,when there were 77,200 employees in the Warwick travel-to-work area.

Mr. Pawsey : I thank my hon. Friend for that extremely helpful reply. Does she agree that one of the reasons why the Warwick and, indeed, Warwickshire figures are so good is the highly motivated, well-trained and adaptable work force ? That applies especially to the constituency of Rugby and Kenilworth, as my hon. Friends will know. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Rugby and Kenilworth area is part of the midlands golden triangle and attracts a steady stream of new employers, creating new wealth and new employment ? [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. That is setting a rather bad pace for questions.

Miss Widdecombe : I have pleasure in confirming each one of my hon. Friend's statements. I also have pleasure in

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confirming his comments on Rugby and Kenilworth, where unemployment has fallen by 12 per cent. over the past year.

Mr. Olner : Would it not have been a more honest question and a more honest answer if the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) had gone back to 1979 figures and if, in speaking up for the skills of the work force in the Coventry and Warwickshire area, he had mentioned that that area has been decimated by the Government's inability to have a manufacturing policy ?

Miss Widdecombe : I am sure that, in this period of peace between our parties, the hon. Gentleman will wish me to give him good news on which he can then congratulate the Government. May I first point out that fair comparisons between work forces in employment should be from peak to peak or trough to trough and not from the one to the other ? Secondly, may I give the hon. Gentleman the good news about the creation of new jobs by Jaguar, Peugeot and Land-Rover and the jobs that that has brought to the hon. Gentleman's region ? In this new period of peace, I look forward to the hon. Gentleman congratulating us on that.

Employment Statistics --

2. Mr. Flynn : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what new proposals he has to improve the accuracy of employment statistics.

The Minister of State, Department of Employment (Mr. Michael Forsyth) : Government statisticians have taken a number of initiatives in recent years, but I am not aware of any new proposals.

Mr. Flynn : Does the Minister recall that at the last Employment Question Time, in answer to a similar question, I was told that the Minister agreed with paragraph 78 of the Select Committee's report of 10 February which concerned my question, as though every hon. Member could be expected to know every sentence of every paragraph of every Select Committee report ? Will the Minister lead by example today and tell me whether he agrees with the final sentence of paragraph 112 of the same report ?

Mr. Forsyth : The hon. Gentleman knows the answer to that question as well as I do.

Sir Donald Thompson : Does my hon. Friend agree that when there are more people unemployed there are more people on the register and when there are fewer people unemployed there are fewer people on the register, that that is an accurate reflection and that ours are by far the best figures in Europe ?

Mr. Forsyth : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The good news is that, however we measure unemployment, it is falling in Europe in only one other country apart from the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom has led the way because of the success of the supply side reforms that the Government have carried out, though not always with the support of Opposition Members.

Mr. Barron : Will the Minister confirm that his Department's labour force survey shows that the total number of people who want a job is really 5 million if one uses a four-week test ? In view of the difference between

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that view and the official claimant counts which are published on a monthly basis, is the Minister prepared to co- operate fully with the inquiry set up by the president of the Royal Statistical Society and to agree, as Labour will, with the recommendations so that we can have a fair account of unemployment in this country rather than the fiddled figures that we get each month ?

Mr. Forsyth : I am disappointed that the hon. Gentleman should take that view. He will know that we measure unemployment in two ways. The first relates to people claiming benefit, which is the unemployment count. The other is the internationally recognised International Labour Organisation definition. Both figures are broadly the same. If the hon. Gentleman is going to talk about 5 million unemployed, I wonder whether that is official Opposition policy. In the unlikely event of a Labour Government, are they likely to be announcing on their first day in office that there are 5 million unemployed ? I think not. Other Opposition Members have accepted the ILO figures. It would be better to recognise that the figures are correct and to concentrate on the good news that unemployment is falling.

Training --

3. Mr. Colin Shepherd : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what steps he is taking to develop further training opportunities for young people.

The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. David Hunt) : The introduction of a new modern apprenticeship scheme and other measures.

Mr. Shepherd : I thank my right hon. Friend for that brief answer. Does he recognise that the concept of apprenticeships is often thought of as purely a matter for the mechanical and engineering sectors whereas there are many other sectors to which it could be applied ? Will my right hon. Friend stress that fact in his development of the concept ?

Mr. Hunt : Yes, I will. In fact, my hon. Friend's own training and enterprise council--Hawtec--is, among other training and enterprise councils, involved in the preparation of a prototype for the retail industry. There are a number of other prototyping arrangements for modern apprenticeships, including information technology, plumbing and marine engineering. Those sectors cover a range of new areas which have not hitherto had apprenticeships.

Mr. Alex Carlile : What fresh proposals does the Secretary of State have for the many new graduates who will emerge from university in a few weeks, young and eager to work ?

Mr. Hunt : I am delighted that between 1990 and 1996 the number of individuals graduating from our universities will double. I also take pride in the fact that the rate of unemployment among graduates is half the national average. The United Kingdom has one of the lowest rates in Europe. There will be increasing opportunities for our graduates, who will share in the increasing growth in the economy.

Mr. Alan Howarth : Is my right hon. Friend aware that his decision that equal opportunities for disabled people--and, most importantly, young disabled people--should be on the agenda for his meetings with training and

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enterprise councils has been extensively welcomed ? Is he further aware that the Employers Forum on Disability and the Confederation of British Industry are looking forward to consultations with him on policies to end discrimination in training and employment and that they want the Government to take the lead in updating the legislation in that area ? Will he press forward with that process ?

Mr. Hunt : I agree that the present quota system is not effective in removing discrimination against disabled people. We are introducing a new access to work scheme, but we must go further and introduce proposals to end discrimination where it affects disabled people.

Mr. Tony Lloyd : Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that £103 million has been cut from the budget for adult and youth training ? Given the Government's record of shoddy, low-cost training which has failed the nation in the past, why should we believe that the modern apprenticeships will be any different ?

Mr. Hunt : The hon. Gentleman is about the only person to have voiced that view. I have been overwhelmed with favourable responses to the new modern apprenticeship scheme. In fact, the hon. Gentleman was quoting a significant underspend in youth training. The introduction of a new modern apprenticeship scheme and the credits that accompany it, together with a budget of £1.25 billion over the next three years, means that we have the potential to fill the skills gap in the economy at the much-needed technician, craft and supervisory levels.

Mr. Brandreth : Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government are currently spending about £2.8 billion per year on training and enterprise--two and a half times the amount spent in 1979 in real terms ? Is that not one reason why last year some 1.4 million people were able to return to work, 24 per cent. of whom had been unemployed for more than six months ?

Mr. Hunt : My hon. Friend quotes a number of very important statistics. We are spending much more now in real terms than was spent under the Labour Government in 1979. The important thing is to ensure that that spending is properly targeted. That is why we are introducing new measures which I believe are capturing the support of a wide cross-section of the community. I very much hope that the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) will rethink his position.

4. Mr. Barnes : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what percentage of youth training and training for work trainees found work on completion of their courses at the latest date for which figures are available.

Miss Widdecombe : Sixty-six per cent. of youth training and 36 per cent. of training for work trainees were in employment after completing their training.

Mr. Barnes : Why do so many young people go straight from inadequate training courses to the dole without decent qualifications or credits ? Should there not be investment in skills training, together with temporary employment subsidies to promote the creation of jobs ? It is not only the young people who suffer--the whole economy suffers by not being able to use their talents.

Miss Widdecombe : Some 66 per cent. of those who complete youth training gain a qualification or a credit. It

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does not follow that those who do not do so necessarily go into unemployment. Some go on to further training and others to further education. Those facts must be remembered. On the hon. Gentleman's point about spending on youth training, it is worth spelling out that the forthcoming budget actually includes a higher spend than currently, despite the fact that larger numbers of young people stay on at school.

Mrs. Angela Knight : Will my hon. Friend confirm that in the east midlands region unemployment is falling and vacancies are increasing, bringing real hope to young people looking for jobs ? Is she aware that in the Southern Derbyshire training and enterprise council area, which covers my constituency of Erewash, young people eligible for youth training schemes are getting a place without waiting ?

Miss Widdecombe : I am delighted to confirm my hon. Friend's latter point. Not only is it true in her constituency ; it is now true in the vast majority of TEC areas. The number waiting more than eight weeks for a YT place has dropped from just under 5,000 last year to 138.

Mr. Campbell-Savours : Is not the problem questionable certification ? I have yet another falsified national vocational qualifications certificate fraudulently produced by JHP Training. May we now have the National Audit Office independent inquiry for which I have repeatedly called and to which I have offered to provide evidence, as against the in- house inquiry that the hon. Lady wants to set up when clearly her own Department has been totally discredited ?

Miss Widdecombe : The hon. Gentleman knows the answer to his question because he came to see me yesterday and I explained it to him then. I explained clearly to him yesterday that it is the view of the National Audit Office that it is appropriate for us to conduct an internal inquiry. That inquiry would be greatly assisted if the hon. Gentleman would make the evidence available to us, as he said in an early-day motion that he would.

Modern Apprenticeship Scheme --

5. Mr. Duncan : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what representations he has received from industry and trade unions in support of the proposed modern apprenticeship scheme.

Mr. David Hunt : Many messages of support.

Mr. Duncan : Can my right hon. Friend confirm that in his discussions with the trade unions they have indicated that their demand for a minimum wage would not extend to this scheme if it were implemented ? Does that not show that the trade unions know that a minimum wage would destroy jobs in the way that the trade union movement destroyed apprenticeships in the 1960s and 1970s, and that the minimum wage, as the policy of the Labour party, should best be dropped altogether ?

Mr. Hunt : There is an atmosphere of lack of enthusiasm for any proposals for a statutory minimum wage, even extending to our colleagues on the Labour Benches, who have understood that such an idea would not be popular at present. I do not believe that it would be popular because it would strike at the heart of a scheme

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such as the new modern apprenticeship scheme. Moreover, in the past 15 years young people's earnings have increased in real terms right across the spectrum.

Mr. Robert Ainsworth : In the many messages that the Secretary of State has received from employers, what exactly has the Engineering Employers Federation said to him about the new modern apprenticeship scheme ? When we spoke to the EEF the other day, it was markedly lukewarm, feeling that we were probably going down the road towards yet another underfunded gimmick. What exactly is the view of the Engineering Employers Federation to the proposed new apprenticeship scheme ?

Mr. Hunt : When I met the EEF on Monday, its view was very positive. I hope that the view expressed by the hon. Gentleman is not widely held in the EEF. It is now very much up to employers to develop the scheme. We have not laid down a statutory Government scheme : we have asked employers to come forward with prototypes that they believe will be successful in delivering at NVQ level 3--equivalent to two A-Levels--the skills that they believe are necessary in their industries. In my experience, the engineering industry is one of the most important sectors behind the new modern apprenticeship scheme so far.

Mrs. Ann Winterton : Is my right hon. Friend aware that much of industry is enthusiastic about the scheme, believing that the only way forward to provide the skilled craftspeople of the future is through apprenticeship schemes ? Is he aware of the importance of electrical skills to the film industry, for example ? An example of that industry's excellence is the lighting provided at the Palace of Westminster for the state opening of Parliament.

Mr. Hunt : I am happy to endorse what my hon. Friend has said. One of the prototypes for the new modern apprenticeship scheme is coming from the electrical installation engineering sector and I am delighted about that.

Mr. Prescott : Does the Secretary of State accept that the result of the Government's scrapping of the 20 statutory training boards and their statutory levies was a reduction of more than 150,000 apprenticeships ? Industry did not invest in apprentices. Has not the time arrived to adopt the principle of a statutory training levy ? Has not the problem with training in Britain been the lack of adequate finances to produce the skills required, as industry does not do this voluntarily ?

Mr. Hunt : I hope that when the hon. Gentleman looks at the statistics he will recognise that one good feature of a pretty tough recession has been the way in which expenditure on training by employers has held up extremely well. Employers now invest some £20, 000 million on training.I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we have a particular problem--although I disagree with him about its causes--in filling the much -needed skills level at NVQ level 3 through a new modern apprenticeship system. I very much hope that the hon. Gentleman will let me have his thoughts about how the new prototypes can be developed, since I am open to argument as to how best the scheme can be taken forward.

Mr. Ian Bruce : Does my right hon. Friend agree that, with the enormous increase in spending on academic training through the Department for Education, the balance

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must be redressed by putting more money into training for work, particularly in counties such as Liberal Democrat- controlled Dorset, where the council has slashed the discretionary grant for people going on to schemes which are job related ?

Mr. Hunt : I agree with my hon. Friend. I should like to see a substantial increase in workplace training. We must deliver opportunities to young people leaving school not just to go down the traditional academic route, but to see exciting opportunities in the new modern apprenticeship scheme. I very much hope that there will be successful vocational training, particularly in specific new areas and in new industries, to deliver those much-needed skills in the future.

Labour Statistics --

6. Mr. Win Griffiths : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will list the changes in the number of men employed in each standard planning region since June 1979.

Mr. Michael Forsyth : With permission, Madam Speaker, I will arrange for the table of information requested to be published in the Official Report .

Mr. Griffiths : I am sorry that the Minister could not see fit to give figures which have been given on previous occasions when I have been lucky enough to ask this question.

May I draw attention to the figures for Wales, which have prompted me to ask about the United Kingdom ? There has been a reduction in the number of jobs for men in Wales from 618,000 to 583,000, including 53,000 part-time jobs. That is a reduction of more than 20 per cent. When does the Minister expect to get back to the figures for employment for men that we had when Labour was last in power ?

Mr. Forsyth : If the hon. Gentleman looks at his question, he will find that he asked for the figures for each region of the United Kingdom, not for the United Kingdom. He is right about Wales, but he could have pointed to East Anglia where employment figures have gone up. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman and others would welcome the fact that employment is rising and that in Britain we have a higher percentage of our population in work than most other European countries.

Mr. Mans : In the context of the figures, does my hon. Friend agree that the situation is very good indeed in the north-west ? Does that not show that this recovery, unlike previous ones, is manufacturing and export- led, rather than consumer and service-led ?

Mr. Forsyth : My hon. Friend is right to point out that in recent months unemployment has been falling in every region of the United Kingdom. That is good news, and it is because of the success of the Government's policies of getting inflation down and creating conditions in which business can thrive and prosper.

Following is the information :

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Civilian work force in employment<1>                                                 


                  Male all                                                           

Standard regions |June            |December        |Change                           

                 |1979            |1993                                              


South East       |4,884           |4,368           |-516                             

East Anglia      |485             |511             |+26                              

South West       |1,053           |1,118           |+65                              

West Midlands    |1,464           |1,238           |-226                             

East Midlands    |1,012           |927             |-85                              

Yorkshire and                                                                        

Humberside       |1,305           |1,113           |-192                             

North West       |1,714           |1,410           |-304                             

North            |807             |661             |-146                             

Wales            |721             |627             |-95                              

Scotland         |1,323           |1,173           |-150                             

                 |-------         |-------         |-------                          

Great Britain    |14,769          |13,147          |-1,622                           

<1> The civilian work force in employment comprises employees in employment, the     

self-employed and participants in work-related Government training programmes.       

Figures are not seasonally adjusted.                                                 

Modern Apprenticeships --

8. Dr. Spink : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what estimate he has made of the number of people who will be able to benefit from the new apprenticeship scheme in each of its first three years.

Mr. David Hunt : More than 40,000 a year.

Dr. Spink : I thank my right hon. Friend for that excellent news. Will modern apprenticeship scheme places be available in smaller firms such as Mechtric Engineering, which employs 20 highly skilled engineers, designers and technicians in Castle Point ? Would apprenticeship places be appropriate in a company such as Mechtric, bearing in mind that this week it celebrates its silver jubilee, the award of its BS 5750 certificate and the fact that it exports the world-beating 7150 material testing machine ?

Mr. Hunt : I join my hon. Friend in congratulating Mechtric Engineering on the trio of achievements that he set out. He is right that engineering is one of the key areas. I am delighted to say that I have already been made aware that there are advanced arrangements for prototypes not only in electrical installation engineering, but in engineering construction and manufacture and marine engineering. Many other sectors are already lining up to start the new modern apprenticeship scheme next year and I am delighted about that.

Mr. Clapham : Is the Secretary of State aware that President Clinton and his advisers are looking not to Britain as the model to follow, but to the Germans, because they believe that the German universal apprenticeship scheme will provide the necessary platform for a modern economy ? What steps is he taking to link national vocational qualifications to a more universal apprentice-ship scheme ?

Mr. Hunt : On the first point, when I attended the recent jobs conference in Detroit I found considerable interest, not only on the part of the United States but on that of our German colleagues in G7, in our new modern apprenticeship scheme.

On the second point, we are linking the new modern apprenticeship scheme, as I said, to NVQ level 3 because

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we believe that that is where the skills gap exists which we must fill. The hon. Gentleman will also be aware of our plans for linking training much more to output and especially linking it much more to the opportunities that the new NVQ system offers to every member of the population.

Unemployment --

9. Mr. John Marshall : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment how the rate of unemployment has changed since January 1993.

Mr. Michael Forsyth : Unemployment has fallen by 240,000 or 0.8 percentage points since January 1993.

Mr. Marshall : Can any other European country boast such a record ? Is the rate of unemployment in Britain lower or higher than the European average ? Are not there more people at work in Britain than in Germany, France, Spain or Italy ? Does not that record reflect on Government

Madam Speaker : Order. I am empowered to ask the Minister to answer only one question. I hope that hon. Members will take that to heart. Perhaps the Secretary of State can have a stab at answering a couple of those questions--sorry, the Minister of State.

Mr. Forsyth : My hon. Friend will have to make do with me, but I can confirm that he has answered all his questions and has brought good news to the House. The record on jobs in Britain is very good indeed.

Mr. Skinner : Why on earth should anyone in Britain believe those figures when more than 500,000 young people on slave labour schemes are not counted, more than 500,000 women are not registered and more than 100,000 ex-miners are not registered for unemployment ? In pit villages in Bolsover more than 50 per cent. are unemployed and that is true of every coalfield in the country. What a pack of lies.

Madam Speaker : Did I hear the hon. Gentleman correctly ? Did he say it was "a pack of lies" ?

Mr. Skinner : I was using the collective noun.

Mr. Forsyth : I thought that the hon. Gentleman was making an assessment of his own question. According to the internationally recognised definition by the International Labour Organisation--an organisation which I should have thought the hon. Gentleman would support--Britain is leading the way in Europe with falling unemployment and in creating new employment opportunities, which I accept are required in communities that have been affected by the consequences of closures in the coal industry.

Mr. Anthony Coombs : Will my hon. Friend confirm that not only does Britain have a higher proportion of people in work than any other country in Europe, but last year saw unemployment in the west midlands fall by no fewer than 73,000 people ? Does my hon. Friend also agree that inward investment has protected some 76,000 jobs in the west midlands and that that inward investment would undoubtedly be jeopardised if we adopted the social chapter of which the Labour party is so fond ?

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Mr. Forsyth : My hon. Friend is right to look to the future and to emphasise the importance of new jobs which come from inward investment. He also highlights the importance of having flexibility in the labour market which enables employers to respond to the needs of the marketplace in order to create future employment. That is why the Prime Minister's opt-out from the social chapter was so important in helping to create inward investment opportunities.

Mr. Prescott : Does the Minister accept that, according to his own labour force survey, another 2.2 million people are looking for work and available for work ? If that information is true and he accepts it--giving a total of nearly 5 million unemployed--is that another example of, "If it's not hurting, it's not working" ?

Mr. Forsyth : The hon. Gentleman seems to live by the code that one shoots the messenger when he brings good news, not bad news. The fact is that it is good news about employment. If the hon. Gentleman wants to claim that there are 5 million people unemployed, may we hear from the Opposition that they would accept that figure if they were in government ? I think that the hon. Gentleman will find that, by any accepted criteria, the ILO figures are the figures which he should look to and which are consistent with those achieved by measuring the unemployment count.

Mr. David Nicholson : Does my hon. Friend agree that the fall in unemployment that he described is more than paralleled in the south-west region ? Will he urge his right hon. Friends to continue to resist measures of regulation, taxation burdens and political correctness which, contrary to the advice of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), will damage job creation ?

Mr. Forsyth : I agree with my hon. Friend--in fact, about 250,000 extra jobs have been created in the south-west in the past 10 years. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to emphasise the importance of the Prime Minister's deregulation initiative and the attempt to reduce the burden on businesses from red tape and regulations. It is undoubtedly true that the jobs of the future will come from small and medium-sized enterprises which must be encouraged to thrive and prosper.

Senior Managers --

10. Mrs. Anne Campbell : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what proportion of senior managers were women in each of the last three years for which figures are available.

Miss Widdecombe : The labour force survey shows that, in the autumn of 1993, 31 per cent. of corporate managers or administrators were women. The equivalent figures for 1991 and 1992 were 29 per cent. and 31 per cent.

Mrs. Campbell : Has the Minister taken the time to study the report entitled "The Rising Tide" published by the Office of Science and Technology ? Is she aware that one of the key recommendations of the report asks Government Departments to set a target that women will fill at least 25 per cent. of public appointments and senior manager positions by the year 2000 ?

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Miss Widdecombe : Indeed, and because of the prime ministerial initiative announced in 1991 there has already been a rise from 23 per cent. to 28 per cent. of women in public appointments. Because of the initiative of Opportunity 2000, 25 per cent. of the work force are now covered by employers who are committed to those objectives.

Mr. Bill Walker : Does my hon. Friend agree that the most important senior manager's post that any woman can aspire to is to run her home effectively and well, particularly where children are involved, because that is of enormous benefit to the nation ?

Miss Widdecombe : It is extremely important that we value properly those women who choose to run homes. That is why there are special exemptions for women returners in our training programmes ; that is why my right hon. Friend introduced accredited prior learning and applied it also to those on career breaks ; and that is why we have tried to make that choice available as widely as possible.

Mrs. Clwyd : Does the Minister agree, however, that under the Government of whom she is a member, women are still treated as second-class workers and that only in Ireland and Luxembourg, in the European Union, are women's average earnings lower, as a proportion of men's, than in Britain ?

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