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Mr. Hanson: The Government are committed to working across Departments. The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development is finalising a rural strategy for diversifying the rural economy communities, and there is ongoing co-operation with Invest Northern Ireland in supporting small businesses.
Mr. McGrady: I thank the Minister for his reply. In the context of diversification sustaining rural industry, will he explain why his noble colleague Lord Rooker, the Minister with responsibility for the environment, has turned down three modest business expansion proposals in the environs of Kilkeel town in my constituency? Those expansions would create about 40 jobs, and the environmental requirements already exist. The businesses involve precision engineering, equestrian development and turbot farming. What could be more appropriate than developing those existing businesses? Will the Minister of State ask his noble colleague to reconsider his position in view of the statement that he has just made?
Mr. Hanson: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that issue. He will understand that my noble Friend Lord Rooker is responsible for these matters, and I understand that he has written to my hon. Friend about them. I am afraid that the position has not changed in regard to that issue, but I will certainly refer my hon. Friend's comments to my noble Friend, and I hope that he will get back to him in due course.
Michael Fabricant: But that 10th report also makes seven positive suggestions as to the sorts of actions that the Government should take to stop criminality. Will the Minister now confirm that all seven points will be taken up by his Department?
The hon. Gentleman rightly draws attention to the need to address that issue. I assure the House, as security Minister, that it is the first and foremost priority of my Department in Northern Ireland. A number of elements are combating organised
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and paramilitary crime in Northern Ireland, including the Assets Recovery Agency, and we work in co-operation on that with the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Criminal Assets Bureau in the Republic. It is essential that we crack down on serious organised crime, and if he reads the eighth, ninth and the current 10th IMC report, he will recognise that huge progress is being made. There is more to make, but we are committed to making it.
The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): Before listing my engagements, I want to express on behalf of Members on both sides of the House our sadness at the death of Peter Law. He was a conscientious Member of Parliament, he won the respect of all who knew him for the courageous way in which he fought his illness, and our thoughts are with his family at this time.
Mr. Jenkin: According to the World Bank, the present round of world trade talks would lift tens of millions of people out of abject and grinding poverty, yet the deadline for the conclusion of the talks this weekend will be missed. Does the Prime Minister accept that the main obstacle to a successful trade round is the punitive agricultural trade protection regime of the EU, and that Peter Mandelson's spokesman has made it clear that he will not agree to any deal that would cut agricultural subsidies in the EU by "one cent"? How does the Prime Minister square that with his obvious and sincere commitment to Africa and to tackling poverty?
The Prime Minister:
I accept entirely that the EU policy on agriculture is one major obstacle to the world trade talks succeeding. I would disagree, however, that it is the only one. Other obstacles must also be dealt withAmerican policy in relation to this matter, Japanese policy in relation to it and non-agricultural market access on behalf of the G20 countries. My view is that if those others are willing to put a bolder offer on the table, we in Europe should be prepared to revisit our policy in relation to that. We are trying to organise that at present. An important meeting is coming up shortly between the European Union and Latin American countries, and I know that President Lula of Brazil is absolutely committed to making this world trade round succeed. It is vital that it succeeds, not just for the poorest countriesalthough it is especially vital for thembut for the whole world. I will do everything that I can to make sure that Europe, America, Japan and the G20 countries all put more ambitious offers on the table.
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Stephen Pound (Ealing, North) (Lab): For 16 years, I sat on Ealing council while our neighbourhoods went to hell in a handcart, and the response of the Conservative party was to introduce the Sheehy report, which was the biggest body blow to police morale in history. Will the Prime Minister acknowledge publicly the vital role of police and community support officers in finally making our neighbourhoods safer?
The Prime Minister: Yes, I willI can say that confidently. The record numbers of police, the community support officers and the new powers, where they are used by local authorities, make a real difference to community safety. What my hon. Friend says is absolutely right.
The Government were told in July last year that there was a massive problem with foreign prisoners being released and not considered for deportation. The prisoners released on to Britain's streets included murderers, rapists and paedophiles. Does the Prime Minister accept that the measures taken after the Government were told about the problem were completely insufficient?
The Prime Minister: First, let me say that I fully accept and regret that until recently the system for identifying and, where possible, deporting foreign nationals who have served sentences in United Kingdom jails has been seriously and fundamentally at fault.
Let me answer the direct question that the right hon. Gentleman asked. Last July, it was proposed that there should be a substantial expansion of both the funding and the staff to look after this particular aspect of the work of the immigration and nationality directorate. That actually happened: almost £3 million extra was put into financing the system adequately, and the number of staff has been built up. As a result, although it has taken time to put the proper system in place, since 1 April all cases are now considered pre-release.
There is another piece of information that I should give the House. It is, of course, a matter of deep regret, as the Home Secretary said, that since 1999we have the figures since 1999 because that is when records were first kept; the system has been in place for many decadesthere have been 1,023 cases. It is, however, important for people to understand that a third of those casescases in which there should have been consideration pre-release from prisonhave been considered subsequently, or are under consideration, and many of those people have been deported. I agree that that still means that the system was not working adequately, which is why the changes that I have just described were implemented.
But that, I am afraid, just is not good enough. We now know that even after Ministers were told about the problem in July, 288 prisoners were released without being considered for deportation. Why did the Home Secretary describe that last night as "very, very few people"?
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The Prime Minister: Again, it is important to emphasise that many of those 288more than 70, I thinkhave been considered. Indeed, some of them have been deported. It is, however, correct that all of them must now be considered. The point that I am making to the right hon. Gentleman is that from last year extra resources and extra staff[Interruption.]
Mr. Speaker: Order. When the Prime Minister is asked a question, he must be allowed to answer. [Interruption.] Order. Mr. Forth, I am not looking for your opinion at this stage. I am saying that the Prime Minister must be allowed to answer.
The Prime Minister: As I was saying, from last July procedures were implemented to increase the number of staff and the resourcing of the unit concerned. That has taken time to build up, but as I said a moment ago, many of those 288 casesmore than 70have already been considered or are being considered. Some of those people have already been deported. All those cases will be considered, and since 1 April the system has been working properly, so that for the first time ever, everyone who is identified pre-release has his or her case considered.
Mr. Cameron: But the Prime Minister simply has not answered the question about what the Home Secretary said last night. Let us be clear about what he said on television. When asked whether anyone was released after he was told about it, the Home Secretary replied:
This Home Secretary has presided over systemic failure. He has failed to deal with this, and last night he misled people about the scale of the problem. Is it not clear that he cannot give the Home Office the leadership that it so badly needs?
The Prime Minister: Not surprisingly, I do not agree with that. The Home Office has given the figure of 288. Indeed, the reason we can give figures is that there is now a proper case management system. As I have said, the reason we give the figures since 1999 is that that was the first time that any figures were kept. I would also point out that over the last two years there have been more than 3,000 deportations. Indeed, since last October there have been 800. But let me repeat again that since 1 April all cases have been considered pre-release. The 288 cases to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred will be considered; some have already been considered, and deportations have followed.
That is the sort of thing that we have come routinely to expect from this Government. Can the Prime Minister answer this? When the Home Secretary offered to resign, did the Prime Minister know that, even after the
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Government were told about systemic failure, 288 prisoners were released without being considered for deportation?
The Prime Minister: I do not accept that the Home Secretary did not act on this matter. He did act, for the very reasons that I have given, and in the way that I just described. The fact is that there has been action as a result of people realising that there were cases that should have been considered pre-release which were only considered post-release. There is now a system in place, however, for the first time since these procedures began, that will allow us to make sure that all cases are considered pre-release and that deportations follow, where appropriate. I may point out that that is literally the first time for decades that such a system has been in place.
The Prime Minister: I did not know the details of the figures that the Home Secretary gave until today. However, it is as a result of the Home Office having put out the figures that we actually know them. It is therefore quite wrong to suggest that these figures were somehow concealed by the Home Secretary, and as I have already said to the right hon. Gentleman, it is not correct that the 288 cases will not be considered. They will be considered, and the Home Secretary will give details later of how quickly that can be done.
Mr. Cameron: Let us be absolutely clear about what we have just heard. The Prime Minister backs incompetent Ministers, even when he does not know the facts. That is what we have discovered. When are this Government going to start backing and protecting the public, instead of protecting their own backs? Let us be clear about what has happened: 1,000 prisoners have been released on to our streets, when they should have been considered for deportation; the Prime Minister does not know where they are, or how many crimes they have committed since they were released. Is this not part of a wider story: a Government who said that they would be tough on crime releasing dangerous prisoners; a Government who told us that there were 24 hours to save the NHS sacking nurses? When a Prime Minister cannot even deport dangerous foreign criminals in our jails, are the public not entitled to say, "Enough is enough"?
The Prime Minister: First, I did give the right hon. Gentleman the facts on the 1,023 prisoners, and I indicated that over a third of them have already had their cases considered, or are in the course of being considered. As for the national health service, I think that people know very well, when they compare[Interruption.] Well, it was the right hon. Gentleman who raised the issue of the national health service. I am well aware of the reason why Opposition Members do not want the answer.
Mr. Russell Brown (Dumfries and Galloway)
(Lab): Two weeks ago, the Hunter Rubber company in my constituency went into administration, resulting in the immediate loss of some 48 jobs. On moving in, the
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administrators seized everything, including the employees' holiday fund, later indicating that, despite that mistake, they could not refund the money. Thankfully, the Department of Trade and Industry's insolvency unit will rectify the administrators' mistake. However, does the Prime Minister not agree that mistakes made by administrators and the like should be rectified by them, and not left at the mercy of the public purse?
Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD): On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, may I associate myself with the expressions of sympathy that the Prime Minister gave to the family and friends of Peter Law?
The Prime Minister: As I explained to the Leader of the Opposition, there has been systemic failurethat is entirely acceptedover a very long period. However, it is also the case that it is only because there have been proper records since 1999 that we know of these numbers of people. There is also now a proper system in place, which is why, I repeat, from 1 April, for the first time ever in the administration of this system, all cases are considered pre-release.
Sir Menzies Campbell Does the Prime Minister understand that if heads are to roll, and those heads are those of civil servants, the public will feel that a lot less than political responsibility has been demonstrated by this Government? May I remind him of these facts? The Government had these matters first drawn to their attention in 2002. Some 288 people have been released since last August. This morning, at Holme House prison in Stockton-on-Tees, a Nigerian prisoner eligible for deportation was seen to walk free into the community. How can the Home Secretary remain in office? How can the Prime Minister not ask for his resignation?
The Prime Minister: For the reason that I gave earlier, which is that the changes that have now been put in place allow us, for the first time, to ensure that the system operates in the way that it always should. Let me just point out to the right hon. and learned Gentleman yet again that all of the 288 cases will be considered. Some of them have already been considered and, incidentally, it is as a result of the action taken by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary last yearthe very time the right hon. and learned Gentleman talks aboutincluding the additional money and additional staff, that we now have in place for the first time that robust system.
Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby)
(Lab): When the Prime Minister hears about British soldiers losing their lives in Iraq, he usuallyin fact, always, and correctlymakes a statement from the
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Dispatch Box expressing sympathy. Today, in Committee Room 16 at 12.30 there will be members of the families of those who have lost their lives in Iraq. Will the Prime Minister spare five or 10 minutes to meet them?
The Prime Minister: For the reasons that I have given on many occasions, I yield to nobody in my support and admiration for the work that the soldiers do in Iraq. It is also important, however, from my perspective and also from the perspective of those who are serving out in Iraq, that they know that we are fully behind the work that they are doing there. They are there with a United Nations resolution and the full support of the Iraqi Government. I believe that at this moment it is important that they know that they are doing a job that is right and worth while, and is absolutely necessary for this country's security.
Q2.  Mr. David Amess (Southend, West) (Con): What is the rationale behind the decision to remove the British embassy from the Holy See for the first time since the signing of the Lateran treaty, to close the ambassador's residence and then to invite the Pope to visit Britain next year? Is it the Government's intention to showcase the Pope's visit next year by inviting my right hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) to take tea with him?
The Prime Minister: First, I should say that we do have an ambassador and a residence there and it is important that we keep them, but the Foreign Officelike many organisationshas to undergo changes, including the exact location of its embassies or residences. That is for perfectly understandable reasons of cost, but we have an excellent ambassador to the Vatican, who is doing an excellent job.
Mr. Eric Joyce (Falkirk) (Lab): All right hon. and hon. Members recognise the size of the challenge of restoring the Northern Ireland Assembly. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the latest report by the Independent Monitoring Commission provides the beginning of a foundation for a successful outcome?
The Prime Minister: I hope very much that it does, because the Independent Monitoring Commission's report today is important. It is important because it reports both on paramilitary and on criminal activity. It is our hope that if this situation continues, we will have sufficient confidence and trust on all sides of the community in Northern Ireland to get the devolved institutions back up and running again. That is of vital importance to the future and, as my hon. Friend rightly implies, if we look back over the past 10 years, we see that Northern Ireland has come a very long way. It would be tremendous for the people of Northern Ireland and for the whole of the United Kingdom if that could be seen through to a successful conclusion.
Q3.  Mr. Adrian Sanders (Torbay)
(LD): It is estimated that there are around 1 million undiagnosed diabetics in the United Kingdom. One of the main barriers to them seeking treatment is their fear that diagnosis would lead to a lifetime of injections. That is why it was so disappointing that the National Institute
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for Health and Clinical Excellence last week ruled out making available the alternative system of inhaled insulin. The NICE report did not consider that group of diabetics who are put off seeking medical treatment to control their condition, but concentrated only on the efficacy and cost of existing diabetics being moved to a different regime. Will the Prime Minister look again at that group of people, who will cost the health service an enormous amount of money in the long term if they do not get the appropriate treatment quickly? The alternative system could be the key.
The Prime Minister: I am very prepared to pass on the hon. Gentleman's remarks to NICE, but it is important that that body ends up making the clinical decisions. I am not qualified to do that, and neither is he. The way that NICE operates has generally commanded a great deal of respect. However, the treatment of diabetes on the NHS is undergoing considerable change, particularly to give people who suffer from diabetes greater power and control over their treatment. Decisions about how that is done, and about the safest way to do it, must be left to those who are experts in the field.
Q4.  Mrs. Joan Humble (Blackpool, North and Fleetwood) (Lab): Is the Prime Minister aware that the TVR car company has announced that it will leave its Blackpool base in six months, and that that announcement has caused real distress to my constituents? Will he therefore, as a matter of urgency, ask specialist advisers from the DTI to liaise with Blackpool council and offer advice and support to TVR so that it can look at realistic options to remain in Blackpool? If the company makes the sad decision to relocate some or all of its operations, will he ensure that support and advice are given to the members of its skilled work force so that they can find suitable alternative employment?
The Prime Minister: I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance, and I am obviously sorry for those of her constituents who face the prospect of redundancy. She will know that there is now a well tried and tested procedure for dealing with situations where manufacturing or other redundancies arise as a result of changes in the market. We will make sure that the full infrastructure of support from Jobcentre Plus and the DTI is put in place to try to help her constituents. It is fortunate that our very strong economy and the number of jobs available in it mean that we have been able to provide extra jobs when similar redundancies have occurred. In addition, I assure my hon. Friend that we would be happy also to provide the necessary re-skilling and retraining for her constituents.
Q5.  Willie Rennie (Dunfermline and West Fife)
(LD): Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating Dunfermline's Lauder college on its record in respect of employment and enterprise? Over the past 18 years, it has successfully helped thousands of people find work in Fife. Will he also investigate the decision by Jobcentre Plus not to renew three new deal contracts with the college? That decision has been criticised by the local community, businesses and hon. Members on both sides of the House.
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The Prime Minister: I am very happy to congratulate the college on the work that it does. Obviously, I am not aware of the individual circumstances of the decisions taken by Jobcentre Plus, but I shall be happy to look into the matter, and send the hon. Gentleman a reply on the subject.
Q6.  Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): My constituents are worried when they read in the newspapers about NHS staff cuts, even though the first new hospital for 70 years has been built in Birmingham, at a cost of £600 million. Will the Prime Minister give me an assurance that the NHS will continue to have well trained and motivated staff, so that we can continue to reform the service? We must not return to the real crisis, which happened when the Tories tried to dismantle the NHS. [Interruption.]
The Prime Minister: Opposition Members can shout, but my hon. Friend is absolutely right. Some 250,000 or more new staff have joined the NHS in the past few yearsincluding, incidentally, 85,000 nurses. She is right to say that the Birmingham hospital redevelopment will cost almost £700 million. Indeed, most of the hospital stock that existed under the previous Government and when this party came to office was built before the NHS was created. That has changed as a result of the largest-ever hospital building programme. For all the difficulties and challenges facing the NHS, we should never forget how much better it is under this Labour Government.
Q7.  Mr. David Evennett (Bexleyheath and Crayford) (Con): Is the Prime Minister aware that recorded crime in my borough of Bexley rose by 5.4 per cent. last year? People in my constituency believe that the Government and the local Labour council have failed on crime and antisocial behaviour and that they are completely out of touch. Will he start listening, get real and get some results?
The Prime Minister: We have actually had a lot of results, both in Bexley and elsewhere, where as a result of the additional investment of this Government in the Metropolitan police area, as the hon. Gentleman knows, there are thousands more police officers; there are community support officers; and recorded crime has actually gone down, not up. In addition, there is more investment in education, there is more investment in health care and there is more investment in pensionersa lot more than under the Government whom he used to support.
Martin Linton (Battersea) (Lab): Would my right hon. Friend perhaps prefer to visit my constituency of Battersea, only a mile from the House of Commons, where the Government and the Mayor have set up safer neighbourhood teams in every ward, helping to cut crime in the borough of Wandsworth by 5 per cent. in the last year? They have set up these teams a year ahead of target, even though the Conservative party voted against the budget at City hall.
The Prime Minister:
Of course, Opposition parties did vote against the budget that has allowed us to roll out safe neighbourhood policing in London, so that people
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will have neighbourhood policing teams which by the end of the year will comprise, in each area, a police sergeant, two police officers and three community support officers. So, for the first time in London for years, there will be proper beat patrols back on the street, which is what people have wanted for ages. This Government and the Mayor and local authorities have provided it, and the Opposition parties voted against money for it.
Q8.  Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire) (Con): Many jobs in my constituency, at Evesham Technology, depend on a highly successful Government scheme, the home computing initiative. Why, without warning, and only days after the Department of Trade and Industry offered it to its own staff, has the Chancellor of the Exchequer abolished it?
The Prime Minister: There are, however, other things that we are putting in place to help people with improving access to technology. For example, there are now going to be some 6,000 centres across the UK which will allow people to access computer technology at very low expense. But we have to ensure that in any such initiative we obviously balance the revenue that is coming in with the support that is being given.
Q9.  Sarah McCarthy-Fry (Portsmouth, North) (Lab): Two of my constituents, Jeanette Macleod and Margaret Prior, have both received Respect awards for taking a stand against antisocial behaviour. Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating them, and also in assuring them and other concerned residents in my constituency that this Government will continue to back and support them with tough measures against antisocial behaviour?
The Prime Minister: We certainly will, and I can assure my hon. Friend that in places up and down this country we are seeing the results of the extra resource and the numbers of police and community support officers, and of the additional powers to tackle antisocial behaviourthings like closing down homes that are used for drug dealing, ensuring that vandalism and so on can be dealt with by on-the-spot fines, and ensuring that we can put ASBOs on those people who are out of control and not behaving in a respectful and proper way within their community. And each and every one of those measures has been opposed by the Liberal Democrats and many have been opposed by the Conservatives.
Julia Goldsworthy (Falmouth and Camborne) (LD): With the only acute hospital in Cornwall closing wards and axeing hundreds of jobs, does the Prime Minister still really believe that this has been the best year ever for the NHS in Cornwall?
The Prime Minister:
I say to the hon. Lady, as I say to all people who criticise the NHS and the changes that it is going through, simply compare what has happened across the NHS and inject some balance into this debate. The numbers of nurses and doctors are up. The waiting
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times and waiting lists are down. We have radically improved services for some areas that were, a few years ago, among the main areas of concern, such as heart disease and cancer. Going to the accident and emergency department today is a quite different experience from a few years ago.
We will continue to make the changes necessary to deliver those reforms. There is a massive resource going in. But the health service cannot always stay as it is. When we examine some of the so-called job losses that are happening, we see that, yes, some will involve genuine redundancies, but I say "so-called" for this reason: others do not. They involve redeploying staff to other duties, and in any system that employs more than a million people it is absurd to say that everyone carries on doing the same thing in the same way. The programme of investment and reform is right. It is delivering, it will deliver and we shall keep to it.
Q10.  Michael Jabez Foster (Hastings and Rye) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will be pleased to know that there are 100 extra nurses in our local hospitals in the Hastings area. This year alone, we have 15 extra community nurses and a primary care trust that is in balance and delivering services. But[Hon. Members: "Ah."] The "but" is this: my strategic health authority suggests abolishing my local PCT that has delivered so much. Will my right hon. Friend intervene, look at the issue and do something about it?
The Prime Minister:
We will certainly look carefully at what my hon. Friend says about his local PCT. I understand that there are differing views about the amalgamation and merger of PCTs, but he is absolutely right to point out the tremendous improvement in his area and in constituencies up and down the country. That is not just the result of record amounts of investmentall of which the Conservatives voted againstbut also of change and reform, and sometimes that change and reform will mean that people are redeployed and that tough decisions are taken to sort out financial deficits, but that is precisely why we are able to say that by the end of 2008 there will be a maximum 18-week wait on an out and in-patient list combined. That would revolutionise the NHS and end
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for ever the concept of waiting. It is something we are determined to deliver and we will take the tough decisions necessary to do so.
Q11.  John Penrose (Weston-super-Mare) (Con): Weston-super-Mare hospital is one of the most efficient in the country, with reference costs roughly 15 per cent. below the Government's targets over the past two years, yet yesterday it had to announce cuts of £11 million and, according to Unison, the loss of up to 60 front-line nursing posts. Given that the Department of Health has so far refused to implement payment by results, which would wipe out that deficit in a year, and has also refused to act on the problem of local primary care trust funding being £11 million below the Government's own target capitation figures, does the Prime Minister agree that this is not a problem created by local mismanagement but a crisis created by decisions made at Westminster? Will he intervene personally?
The Prime Minister: I am happy to look into the hon. Gentleman's point about how payment by results applies in his PCT, but when people talk about cuts in NHS finances, I have to say again that there is, on any basis, a huge increase in national health service financing for his area. On waiting times, for example[Interruption.] Well that is where the money has gone, too. In 1997, in the strategic health authority covering the hon. Gentleman's constituency, the number of people waiting more than six months for an operation was almost 12,000; today it is three. That may be three too many but it is a darn sight better than 12,000. I agree that when we introduce new measures of financial accountability there will difficulties and sometimes posts will not be filled or will be made redundant, but if at the end of the process we have a national health service that is fit for purpose in the early 21st century, where waiting lists come down even further and we get rid of the concept of waiting in the NHS, that change will help his constituents. I cannot promise him that there will not be difficulty or change in his area or in any other, but I can say that it is fully worth it to make sure that every pound of taxpayers' money going into the national health service is most effectively used.
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