Select Committee on Procedure Minutes of Evidence



Examination of witnesses (Questions 60 - 79)

WEDNESDAY 10 FEBRUARY 1999

PROFESSOR VERNON BOGDANOR, PROFESSOR DAVID MIERS, MR BARRY JONES and MR RICHARD RAWLINGS

  60.  Given that that is your primary recommendation to us, and given all that you have already said in evidence today and in your paper, why do you think we need a joint committee which covers all three, what would be its terms of reference and who would be on it? Do you still want to pursue that with us?
  (Mr Jones)  We envisage there are certain situations which would affect all three devolved entities within the UK, and the area specifically which comes to mind is relations with Europe; all three devolved entities would have similar problems with regard to promoting their case, their respective cases, with the UK Government, in Brussels, and we think, in that circumstance, there would be benefits from a joint committee of the three devolved units, so that the regional territorial needs and concerns would be fully taken on board by a central British Government decision. And the point we make this for is that the normal means whereby these interests are articulated is the Secretaries of State for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and, certainly in the case of Scotland of Wales, we feel that there will be a decline in the status and in, we suspect, the political clout of the Secretary of State for Scotland, and Wales, and that, therefore, there has to be some sort of institutional support system to compensate for that.

Mr Stunell:  I am beginning to see some overlap here, which I am not very clear, again, I am not sure if I am understanding you or whether I am seeing something which is not real. But, within the devolution legislation, and within the Government's announcements, is a proposal that there should be joint working between those three elected Assemblies and Parliament and also other outlying institutions, the Isle of Man has been mentioned, for instance, and that would be something that was primarily staffed and based on the elected representatives to the Assembly and to the Scottish Parliament. What you are suggesting appears to be something which will be primarily made up of elected Members of this House who represent constituencies there, and I am not sure quite if I understood your proposal correctly, and you think there is a role both for the inter-Assembly and parliamentary co-operation and for the parliamentary co-operation within the United Kingdom Parliament? That is a question.

Chairman

  61.  But could I add to that, because do you think that this joint committee would consist, in addition, of Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish Westminster Members, or would it be Members from the Assemblies and Parliament, in Scotland, with the Government of the day, here, in the United Kingdom, or would it include the United Kingdom Members for the other parts of the Union?
  (Mr Jones)  Our view is that the committee would be made up of Members of Parliament.

  62.  Of which Parliament?
  (Mr Jones)  Of this Parliament, the Westminster Parliament.

Lorna Fitzsimons

  63.  We have still got sovereignty, do not throw it away. Is there a danger of a territorial, as with always, everybody is gaining territory now, the reality is that we do not want to, we want to have precise abilities, as Members of Parliament, to question, to keep to account, but we do not want duplication, and we have a chance, with this procedure, to actually avoid that and to aid clarity. Now is there a danger, in your mind, that this devolution committee could actually overlap in any way on the territorial committee for Wales that you have suggested, or I might have read too quickly your proposals, in terms of detail, of the territorial committee, but it looks, in the way that you are suggesting it, that, actually, unless you are very careful, it could come up with proposals, concerns, about the way devolution has happened, just as much as the overall devolution committee could?
  (Professor Bogdanor)  We feel, Chairman, that there are some issues of devolution that will be specific to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, because of the different forms of devolution that they are having, but there are also some issues which are common to the devolved areas. You have stressed quite rightly, Chairman, the question of the powers of Cardiff, and also Edinburgh and Belfast. But we feel there is a danger that the devolved areas could be forgotten at Westminster. That happened with Northern Ireland in the Stormont period, from 1921 to 1972, not only on civil rights matters but also such matters as industrial development. These matters tended not to be raised in the House of Commons, because people said "Oh, there's a Parliament in Northern Ireland." We think that should not happen with the devolved areas in the future, and therefore we believe there is a role for both types of committee; and, indeed, it may be that central government arrangements will also evolve. I think the Royal Commission on the Constitution suggested, in the 1970s, that if we had devolution the offices of the Secretary of State for Scotland, and Wales, should end and there should be a Ministry for territorial government, perhaps within the Home Office, or Environment, or some other Department, or perhaps a separate Ministry. We do not know how these arrangements might evolve. But in these circumstances a territorial committee of the kind we are suggesting would be a natural committee to scrutinise the particular Department concerned. We do then feel that there are some problems which Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and, possibly, the regions of England they share in common, and they ought not to be overlooked at Westminster.

Mr Gardiner

  64.  Chair, if I can perhaps throw, I do not know what your cricketing metaphors would be, Chair, but a googly into this, what job do you envisage a Welsh Member of the Westminster Parliament having, under the new arrangements, and how will it differ from that of an English Member of Parliament?
  (Mr Jones)  Initially, and, indeed, for most of the time, a Welsh MP will be like any other Member of Parliament of the Westminster Parliament. He, or she, will have career objectives, he, or she, will have particular interests in certain areas of political activity, social welfare, or whatever, and we have no doubt that they will seek to climb the greasy pole, like any other.

  65.  Spare me the abuse, let us just go with the facts?
  (Mr Jones)  I was trying to be complimentary to you. But, in addition to that, we envisage that there will be a role for Welsh MPs to play. Now we do not wish to divert Welsh MPs totally from the natural career which they see for themselves in being elected to a Westminster Parliament, which is why we identify the need for a Welsh territorial committee, which will be, effectively, the liaison between Welsh MPs and the Members of the Assembly. And the reason for the liaison is that Wales will still depend, to a large extent, upon this Westminster Parliament in getting legislation processed, in getting amendments to legislation, and ensuring that the discretionary powers for the Welsh Assembly are as great as possible; so that there still would be a substantial role for those Welsh MPs. And, in order to free the majority of them from the day-to-day concerns, which are now devolved to the Welsh Assembly, we think it is actually imperative there should be a single committee, with a focus on liaison and partnership with the Assembly, directed to ensuring it develops the expertise, the knowledge, the background, and the skills within this House, in order to promote the Welsh case. In other words, we try to get the best of both worlds, you might say, from this arrangement.

Chairman

  66.  Mr Richard Rawlings, would you like to respond to Mr Gardiner, as well, briefly?
  (Mr Rawlings)  Yes, I would like to make a general point about the discussion, I think, Chairman. I think that perhaps the two groups here are coming from rather different directions. The emphasis in our paper, in our policy proposal, is very much centred on the territorial committee, and, building on the idea of the territorial committee for Wales, and then perhaps for Scotland and Northern Ireland, we then move on to the idea of, I think we called it, a joint committee, but a looser possibility would be joint arrangements, as between the different territorial committees, to discuss matters of common interest. I think Europe was mentioned. Block funding could clearly come into that category; the administration and the working of the concordats, which I see as absolutely fundamental to the way in which devolution is going to work, would be another possibility. Whereas, I think, the questioning, quite understandably, has tended to come from the other direction, which is to focus on this joint committee, the committee on devolved powers, whatever it happens to be, and then to go down. And I think that that is not the emphasis of our paper, the emphasis of our paper is very much on territorial committees for each of the territories, and then a recognition that, in addition to the very different interests that Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs will wish to develop and explore, there may be a series of common issues where it might be useful for joint arrangements to be in place.

Chairman:  Thank you, Mr Rawlings. I want to call David Drew, Lorna Fitzsimons and then Clive Efford, to put the questions together, so that you can then deal with those, and then we will pass on to another issue.

Mr Drew

  67.  I would like to carry on in the same vein as Barry, because I think that that is something that I am interested in. We can have all the structures and the systems under the sun, but it is the people who are either going to make it work or not make it work, and I am just intrigued who you see on these territorial committees, how many MPs, all Welsh MPs, what happens if you have got people who are on the Welsh Assembly at the same time as here, how do they divide up their time? In a sense, we get the best of every world at the moment, because every Welsh MP, every Scottish MP, every Northern Ireland MP, can have an interest in their part of the world, if you like, through the Grand Committee, and some who really want to specialise in that can put their name forward for the Select Committee, because any Member can do that, but, unless you do not happen to have any representatives in those parts of the world, it is likely to be people from that part of the world who get onto the Select Committees. Now what worries me is that if you want an inclusive regime then, with the very nature of things, it is going to get quite unwieldy, in some respects; if it is too narrow, I can see some MPs feeling quite excluded from it, and if they do not happen to be in the Assembly, if they do not happen to be in the Committee, then how do they voice their—they are not just going to be ciphers of their constituents, important though that may be. So I just wonder if you could tease out where you see that going?
  (Professor Bogdanor)  This is an important point, to which we have given a great deal of consideration. On the whole, we thought it would be a mistake to have a committee with all the Welsh MPs on it. What we are trying to suggest is that there should be a single voice for Wales, a powerful vehicle for Welsh interests. We thought that having all the Welsh MPs on it might make it slightly unwieldy, for a committee which is to combine, as it were, the deliberative function of the Grand Committee and the inquisitorial function of a Select Committee. So we thought the Committee should contain perhaps between about 11 and 13 Members, that is about a third of the Welsh MPs, but we thought it need not necessarily be chaired by a Member of the Government. And we took the view that, with a clearly defined——

Chairman

  68.  When you say the Government, do you mean——
  (Professor Bogdanor)  I mean a Member of the Governing Party, I beg your pardon. We took the view that it should not necessarily be chaired by a Member of the Governing Party. Since a number of Select Committees are not chaired by Members of the Governing Party, including this one, we believe that, if its remit were clearly defined, the Committee could be an extremely powerful body by combining those two functions.

Chairman:  Lorna Fitzsimons, and Clive Efford, if they could both come in by asking their questions, then perhaps Professor Miers, amongst others, can respond.

Lorna Fitzsimons:  It is interesting. I genuinely see now that you have teased out more than actually was on the paper. We circulated the evidence, or we have given the opportunity for our Welsh colleagues to actually participate in this, and, interestingly enough, I do not know whether it is either because they just saw the abolition directly of the Welsh Affairs Select Committee, and therefore wanted, but it was a genuine confusion between the real difference, and I think you have highlighted it slightly, in your talk, you talked about actually having new and different powers than the current Select Committee does, and that is why you have rebranded it a territorial committee, to mark the newness of its powers, its enhanced status, whilst going not for the grandiose in the Grand Committee but the more focused approach. And I think that it does need some selling, in terms of our Welsh colleagues, that that would give them the remit, the format, to do what they feel they currently can do as Members of Parliament.

Mr Efford:  I would like to come to the issue of the deregulation committee and the territorial committee in a minute, but——

Chairman:  Devolution.

Mr Efford

  69.  In terms of the constitution of the territorial committee, if it is exclusively made up of Welsh Members of Parliament, for instance, then not all parties would be represented on that committee. So I thought I would just throw that in, and I would just like you to comment on that when you are answering Lorna's question, because that is a problem, if it is just exclusively territorial Members?
  (Professor Miers)  Chairman, perhaps I can answer some of those particular points, and perhaps one or two more general points, concerning what such a committee would do. On the particular points, I would just echo Professor Bogdanor's observation, we would think about 11 or 13 Members of Parliament, reflecting party balance; we do not take the view that these would necessarily all be drawn from within Wales.
  (Mr Jones)  Not necessarily, no; we must get the Conservatives on, I think.
  (Professor Miers)  An obvious point, and I think this is actually quite an important point, and we have already alluded to it, is that, at some stage, there is bound to be some concern on the part of MPs, as it were, on the border, the English/Welsh border, concerning the impact, as I have already suggested, of decisions taken by the Welsh Assembly but which may have spillover consequences. So we see it as party balance, not confined to Welsh MPs. You mentioned the point, I think, about the Welsh Assembly. It is, of course, possible, under the Government of Wales Act, for a person to be a Member of the Welsh Assembly and an MP simultaneously, though I understand it to be the case that a dual mandate is not favoured, and so we are working on the assumption that, in due course, even if initially there may be one or two people of that kind, representations will be separate and represent separate constituencies. The main point, I think, which is what would this committee do, which I think is implicit in the last question; I suppose, putting it in terms of principles, we would see it this way. That, perhaps if we take the Welsh Affairs Select Committee role at the moment; clearly, its role is going to diminish, that follows as night follows day, its role will diminish; nevertheless, there will continue to be matters which a Welsh Affairs Select Committee, if it were to continue, would conduct inquiries upon, like reserved areas, for example. So there will continue to be some work to be done, and if you look at it in terms of functions, those functions will need to be discharged by Westminster for the future, as will such functions as reviewing how, as I suggested, the Welsh Assembly's decisions impact outside Wales.

Chairman

  70.  You do not think that would all be done by a devolution committee of this House, which would represent Scotland, Northern Ireland, as well as Wales?
  (Professor Miers)  I would not have thought so, Chairman, on the grounds that the kinds of decisions which we have in mind, which are, as it were, domestic, pertaining to things like, say, education, health, and so on, that would not be the case, certainly, in the case of Northern Ireland; but, of course, this committee will take up other things. Professor Bogdanor and my colleague Mr Jones have already referred to primary legislation; we would envisage this committee having a powerful voice, and an important voice, in terms of reviewing what Westminster wishes to enact by way of primary legislation, in whatever area. So Part V of the Road Pricing Act, or Bill, to use an example we use in the paper, Part V will be the part that applies to Wales; now that will be more or less definitive on what it is that the Welsh Assembly can do. However definitive it is, whatever the level of definition, it seems to us that a territorial committee for Wales would be in a very strong position to review that Part, and, because we see it as a single committee reflecting what is going on in Wales, in terms of devolution, it would be able to bring to a consideration of what will this Part of this Bill do, last year, or the year before, we happened to see, as part of our inquiry, or part of our deliberation, that this was the impact of a particular decision at Westminster, or in the Welsh Assembly, and that will inform the quality of debate concerning that Part of the UK Bill, the Westminster Bill.

  71.  Have I missed something, have you moved from the existing Welsh Select Committee back to the territorial committee, or are you posing the two?
  (Professor Miers)  What I was trying to suggest, Chairman, was that the territorial committee would pick up and continue to deal with those things which the Welsh Affairs Select Committee has dealt with, but minus those things which go down to Cardiff; but that, in addition, there will be more things, because of devolution, to be dealt with, there will be other things to be dealt with, such as primary legislation affecting Wales.
  (Mr Jones)  And, also, Mr Chairman, I might say, one significant area, which has not been touched on yet, and that is there will have to be a liaison between Westminster and Cardiff, and we see that the Welsh territorial committee would be responsible for sounding out opinion in the Assembly, meeting at the Assembly.

  72.  But are you still suggesting, as was suggested right at the beginning of our discussions, that the Welsh Grand Committee and the Welsh Affairs Select Committee should go, and be replaced by the territorial committee for Wales?
  (Professor Miers)  Yes.
  (Mr Jones)  Yes.

Chairman:  You are; excellent, that is clear.

Mr Gardiner

  73.  Excuse my lingering confusion on this, but, given that powers such as housing, health, health services, education and training are devolved down, and you are saying that the Welsh territorial committee will have, I think your words were, a major influence on the primary legislation going on in this place, at Westminster, that will be passed for Wales, under which the devolved Assembly will be working, I do still want to find an answer to the question of what happens to the 25 MPs, who are Welsh MPs, what is their representative function? Because, you said "Well, they will have their interests, and so on and so forth, and we have put the territorial committee for them to have that role", but, with respect, the function of an MP is not to be sorting out his life so he has an interesting time of things, it is actually to be representing his, or her, constituents. Now what I am trying to get at is, if you are one of the Welsh MPs not on the territorial committee, no longer being petitioned by your constituents about these issues that are now devolved, where is the representative function of that MP, and what does it consist of?
  (Professor Bogdanor)  Well, it seems to me that the MP will still have a representative function, because, as I said earlier, all these matters that Mr Gardiner mentioned will still be the responsibility of Westminster. Now it may be that constituents will be aware of the precise division of powers in particular areas of education and health between Parliament and the Assembly, but I suspect that many of them will not be. I think many constituents are not aware of what is the responsibility of local government, so they still regard MPs as being responsible for local government actions. I would like to emphasise what Professor Miers said, that the problems of Wales are specific and different from those of Scotland and Northern Ireland because of the division of primary and secondary legislation. The job of MPs will be to keep Government up to the mark to ensure that there is a coherent division of powers in different areas, so that the amount devolved, shall we say, in education is similar to that in health, social services, and so on. We hear a lot about joined-up government these days, particularly joined-up government at the centre; it is very important that there should be joined-up government with the Welsh Assembly, so that it, too, can follow a coherent policy in the areas which it is responsible for. I do not think Welsh MPs will be short of things to do.

Chairman:  Certainly, we are not short of questions here. David Drew has caught my eye first, and I know Professor Miers wants to come in on this point, so if you could store it up. Let us get the two questions, David Drew and Andrew Stunell, and then, again, if you can deal with them.

Mr Drew:  It is really partly overlapping what I was saying earlier, about trying to get clear, in my mind, at least, what the people aspects of this are, but going on from that and looking at the way in which the structures have got to reflect how the people will work within them. I just wonder whether you have thought through the potential for conflict between the territorial committee and the Welsh Assembly; this is going to happen, is it not, because the Welsh Assembly are going to push for more and more. It may have been before I came into the room you were talking about that, but no body I have ever had any involvement with has ever restrained or constrained itself when it comes to trying to do something outside its immediate powers, because at least they can talk about it, even if they cannot do it. Now I just wondered if you had thought through how the territorial committee and the Welsh Assembly—and I was interested in what you said and I know this is, obviously, to some extent, a Party's dream, that you have separate people in different places, but, at the moment, we will have people, almost certainly, elected to both here and the Welsh Assembly. Now that could be a very good thing, it could be, as you say, something that is going to eventually remove itself as a problem, but, those things together, you can see some legacy of the past and some possibility of the future of how that tension will arise, and I just wonder how you see that? I am not going to ask you to predict the future, but, if this is got wrong, somebody, somewhere, is going to get egg on their face and it is not going to be very easy to extricate yourself from what could be quite a deep pit of tension and conflict?

Mr Stunell

  74.  I have to say, I am no clearer than I was about one of the central issues here, which is, the Assemblies and the Parliaments, plus some other bodies, are intended, as part of this legislation, to develop some co-ordinating mechanisms between themselves, and that is seen as positive, and it might deal, for instance, with the issue of European links to those bodies. We are also, here, talking about Members of this Parliament in a territorial committee for each of those entities, I think you used the word, and we are also now talking about this joint body, this devolution body. It seems to me that we have actually got quite a lot of scope for overlapping responsibilities and accountabilities; and I remain unconvinced. I have not really heard the argument, I have not understood the argument, anyway, for what this joint devolution committee would do that would not be achieved by a joint committee of Assembly representatives and Parliament representatives meeting outside the ambience of this place and assembling their own agendas, and debating with Government Ministers and holding Government Ministers to account on joint issues which affected them. And I am not clear what the separate role of this devolution body in here would be?
  (Mr Jones)  A group of Assembly Members and Parliament Members from Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales will have no legal standing, they have no institutional base of legitimacy compared to Members of this Parliament; and, although they might be able to influence, our feeling is that devolution is as much to do with modernising Westminster as decentralising power out to the regions, and, therefore, we do not see any inconsistency in an arrangement whereby the co-ordinating function for the devolved areas should be applied within the four walls of this building. So what we do, in fact, is argue for a form of devolution which is not in contradiction to the parliamentary system but is integrated with the parliamentary system.

Mr Drew

  75.  So, ipso facto, you see regional government as an inevitability, in terms of England, otherwise there would be, almost certainly, a ridiculous state of affairs, because English MPs would be in a very different situation from Welsh and Scottish, and Northern Ireland. Is that a fair statement?
  (Mr Jones)  I think the present arrangements are asymmetrical, and I would imagine, in the fullness of time, a certain symmetry would emerge, but it depends very much not on decisions being made from on high but on political processes developing at the regional level in England. I can imagine two or three English regions with a strong sense of initiative in this area already. And I think what we have been talking about very much, in looking at the Welsh situation, is the kind of model which could be applied to the English regions. Because we think that Scotland and Northern Ireland are unique, for reasons which we need not go into at this stage, but that the model which is talked about in the context of Wales could easily be applied, with suitable modifications, for the English regions.

Chairman

  76.  Why should you break England down into regions, why should not England be dealt with as England?
  (Mr Jones)  Our contention is that a lot of the pressure for devolution came not specifically from nationalist demands, certainly if I can speak in the context of Wales, which I am most fitted to, but from the need to develop a system of government administration which was closer to the people, more sensitive to the demands and needs of the people, and we think that that policy would not be achieved by treating England, with, what, 40 million people, as a regional entity, we just do not see that as a viable option.

  77.  Although you have carefully avoided mentioning Scotland, where clearly it was driven by a nationalist Scottish ... ?
  (Mr Jones)  That is debatable. If you look at public opinion polls, the sentiments for Scottish nationalism are not in the majority, and, clearly, a substantial number of people voted for devolution in Scotland who were not nationalist, and they must have done so for a reason.

  78.  But that is motivated by, particularly, one political party, and, in a way, maybe I am going beyond what I should, in the Chair, but the new Government, under Mr Blair, responded to what they saw happening and sought to reflect the feelings of the Scottish people because of the unique identity of Scotland still as a country?
  (Mr Jones)  Yes, I would not dispute that. I do not want to reduce the impact of nationalism in my analysis, but I do think it is the case that nationalism is not the sole factor in all this.
  (Mr Rawlings)  If I could come back to Mr Stunell's question, Chairman.

  79.  And then Mr Drew, as well, if you will deal with that question?
  (Mr Rawlings)  And then I would like to emphasise one aspect of our proposals which I do not think has yet been ventilated. In response to Mr Stunell, what I would say is two things. At first, I took you to be saying that colleagues from the new Assembly and from the Scottish Parliament would be coming together to meet, and that would be it; and then I took you to be saying that there would also be input from the Westminster Parliament into those kinds of meetings. And I would like to say two things. First, it seems to me that the latter is essential, and, in particular, I draw attention to the Government's proposal of a joint ministerial committee, which is not simply a committee of Ministers of the different territories but will also involve, as I understand it, the Prime Minister, representing the United Kingdom, and it seems to me very important that, if these parliamentary links, or Assembly links, are going to develop, Westminster representatives play a full role in the creation and the establishment and the facilitation of those links. And then, secondly, you did mention the idea of parliamentary representatives being there; well, in a sense, that feeds directly back into our proposal for some kind of joint arrangements, because it seems to us that it would be precisely the Members who had the experience, through the territorial committees and the joint arrangements that we are proposing, who would be particularly appropriate parliamentary representatives, to then go on and become involved in these multilateral arrangements with the other Assemblies, the Scottish Parliament, and so on.
  (Professor Miers)  I wonder, Chairman, if I could just return to, I think, a point Mr Gardiner, and the second point which Mr Drew raised, just before I forget the answers to those. Mr Gardiner was asking what the Welsh MPs do, who are not members of the proposed Welsh territorial committee, and leaving aside greasy poles, and the rest, and just looking at it in terms of the post-bag, MPs as just constituency people; so there are two areas upon which matters will arise for them, there will be the devolved areas and there will be the reserved areas. So far as the devolved areas go, I noticed this was quite an important aspect of the evidence you had from Mr Atkinson, it is unquestionably the case that an MP, I call it the Builth Wells hip transplant question, he called it the hospital question as well, that a Welsh Assembly Member will be raising questions in the Welsh Assembly as to why his, or her, constituents are not getting hip transplants in Builth Wells, and exactly the same question will be raised by MPs here, as their constituents. That raises, in its turn, a question about whether questions can be taken, will be in order, on that matter; but I leave that aside. That is clearly one aspect. The other aspect, of course, is the reserved areas, which we have not touched on at all. One of the most obvious of these, and, again, we were discussing this on the train on the way up, is broadcasting, and I can well envisage there is going to be a very great deal of activity in Welsh MPs' post-bags about the place of Welsh language broadcasting on BBC, on ITV, in particular, if those things should be shunted about, or the possibilities for Welsh language programming are affected by decisions taken as to where you have a six o'clock news, or a nine o'clock news, or a ten o'clock news. That is one example. Another example, there are quite a number of military bases in Wales; again, this is maybe overspecific, but, again, you can see letters in the post-bag about overflying, or what have you. So it seems to me that, just in terms of constituency activity, it is going to be there, in the same way that it is there for any MP.

Mr Gardiner:  Chair, just briefly, to respond to that, I think my focus was more that, on your hip transplant example, the person who would be making the initial representations to the local hospital or the local health authority would actually be the Assembly Member and not the Westminster Member. And I fully take the point that people will not always appreciate that distinction, and therefore will write to both, or the wrong one. I would not get nearly so many letters about yellow lines and parking if people did appreciate the distinction between local and national government.


 
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