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Lord Norton of Louth rose to move, That this House takes note of the report of the Select Committee on the Constitution on Devolution: Inter-Institutional Relations in the United Kingdom (2nd Report, HL Paper 28).
The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is a particular pleasure to move this Motion. The Constitution Committee was established by your Lordships' House in February 2001. It has been a very busy committee but this is the first report that it has recommended for debate. Because of the debate's change of date, a number of members are not able to be present and have asked me to convey their apologies.
Our inquiry was a major undertaking. It was made possible by the commitment and expertise of members of the committee, to whom I pay tributeit is a splendid committee to chairas well as by the exceptional efficiency of our then Clerk, Andrew Mackersie, and our specialist adviser, Alan Trench, whose knowledge and understanding of the subject were invaluable to us.
Let me begin by explaining what we do not cover in the report. We are not concerned with the principle of devolution. We have taken devolution as a fact. Nor are we concerned with the internal operation of the devolved administrations. That is not a matter for us. Our focus is inter-institutional relationships in a United Kingdom context. Given that, we necessarily concentrate on institutions that have been brought into existence. We do not have a separate institution, or institutions, for England, so we have not explored the English dimension.
I turn to our findings and recommendations. Our principal findings are summarised in the conclusion on page 51. First, each devolution settlement is different. We should speak of devolution settlements rather than refer to a generic devolution settlement. That may appear an obvious point, but it deserves stressing. Secondly, devolution has bedded in with remarkably few problems. However, problems attach to each finding. The differences in the arrangements for the devolved bodies have given rise to complaints. The commission under the noble Lord, Lord Richard, whom I am delighted to see in his place, is presently considering the workings of devolved arrangements in Wales. There are, of course, pressures for the English question to be addressed.
It is, however, on the second finding that I wish to concentrate. Crucial to devolution bedding in smoothly has been the good will on the part of those responsible for inter-institutional relationships. This
The problem we identified is prospective rather than immediate. Conditions will change and, in some respects, are changing. One cannot proceed on the basis that one party will always dominate the administrations in Westminster, Holyrood and Cardiff Bay. The number of Ministers in the devolved administrations with experience of Westminster is diminishing. We now have a Scottish First Minister who has not been a Member of another place; few of his Ministers have been MPs. In the Welsh Assembly government, only the First Minister, Rhodri Morgan, has sat at Westminster. Although one retains the high level of professionalism of the Civil Service, one cannot proceed on the basis that the good will that underpins relations and gives rise to a high level of informality will continue.
Given that, we believe that preparations need to be made for the time when there will be administrations in place of different political persuasions. In particular, we see the need for relations to be put on a more formal basis, and on a more transparent basis. One of the problems of informality is that little is open and recorded.
We stress in the report that it is important not to wait. We think it prudent to anticipate and to start taking action now. For that reason, we recommend that further use should be made of the formal mechanisms for intergovernmental relations. These encompass regular meetings of the formal Joint Ministerial Council, the regular updating of concordats and a strengthening of the devolution unit in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister.
In order to achieve greater transparency, we want more put into the public domain about meetings of the JMCs and also more information supplied about the funding arrangements. It is not always clear, for example, what increases in funding devolved administrations are entitled to under the Barnett formula. We would also like to see a dispute resolution procedure introduced to deal with disputes arising outside the scope of the Barnett formula.
There are also changes that we recommend to the arrangements made within UK government for dealing with inter-institutional arrangements. Again, we believe it important to look at the process as a dynamic one, rather than taking a single snapshot approach. The roles of the Secretaries of State for Scotland and for Wales were important in delivering the devolution settlements and enabling the devolved arrangements to bed in, but our report said that we
Although some important roles remain, we were not convinced that they need to be fulfilled by three Secretaries of State. We therefore recommended that the Government consider the appointment of one Minister with responsibility for intergovernmental relations overall, possibly supported by Ministers of State to deal with particular policy sectors or devolved areas.
We also recommended merging the devolution and English regions team, located in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, and those parts of the Scotland and Wales offices dealing with intergovernmental relations to create a single group of officials able to deal with the full range of intergovernmental issues. For rather obvious reasons, I shall return to those proposals.
Let me mention briefly other recommendations embodied in the report. We were struck by the fact that although intergovernmental relations are well developed, interparliamentary relations are not, and, furthermore, there is little scope for systematic scrutiny of intergovernmental relations. We recommend that a review of intergovernmental relations be conducted at least once every Parliamentor at least once every five years. We consider that this would be best undertaken by a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament.
We also believe that steps need to be taken to improve the process of dealing with Westminster legislation affecting Wales. We want to see greater consistency in how legislation affecting Wales is dealt with, and consideration given to how Members of the National Assembly can have a greater input into our deliberations. We also raise concerns about the use of Sewel Motions in Scotland and the fact that they are brought forward as the product of agreements between executives rather than between parliaments. That is something we think should be corrected. As part of our inquiry, we considered what lessons may be learned from the experience of Holyrood, Cardiff Bay and Stormont. The use of a business committee is something worthy of further consideration.
That is a brief introduction to our report. I turn to the Government's response and the recent announcements about the structure of government for dealing with devolution. The Government's responsepublished as Command 5780is, in the committee's view, disappointing. Whereas the main message of our report is that, while devolution has bedded in, one has to anticipate what is likely to happen in the future, the Government's response essentially takes the line that things are fine as they are.
The response comments on our specific recommendations but fails to engage with the reasoning that led to the recommendations. Although the response states that the Government will review certain practices in the light of our report, its basic point is that there is,
The Government believe that the current machinery has shown itself well able to maintain effective and constructive relationships between the administrations and that informal contact contributes to that success. At paragraph 2 we are told:
There is no need for me to go through each of the Government's points in detail. If your Lordships read the response, you will see that the message is the same: there is no acceptance of the need for change, though occasionally there is the statement that the matter will be kept under review. That creates a worrying state of affairs. It is not sufficient to leave things as they are. I reiterate our point that it is important not to wait.
It follows from our report that we welcome the locating of the devolution team from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister in the new department, along with the officials responsible for intergovernmental relations in the Scotland and Wales offices. We look forward to having details of the resources that will be made available to them and the structure of accountability. The change itself makes sense, for the reasons that we give in our report. Indeed, it appears that the new structure follows our recommendations in most respects but oneretaining the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales.
The government response to our report lists the responsibilities of the Secretaries of State, but on any reading of those responsibilities it is not clear why they could not be filled by a single Secretary of State. The Downing Street statement concedes that they are not full-time posts. That is reflected in the appointments made. Why, then, retain them in addition to the new Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs? Why not follow the committee's recommendation and, in effect, do away with the posts, with Ministers of State responsible, if necessary, for each of the devolved areas? That would make for a more coherent, and integrated, structure.
I believe that the committee's report and the accompanying evidence volumethe two should be taken together as they comprise the source volume on inter-institutional relationshipsprovide important contributions to understanding how devolution is bedding in and the challenges that it faces. We believe that our report makes a constructive contribution to the debate. Now that we have the new Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, I hope that he will be able to offer a fresh response. In the absence of the Secretary of State, we look forward to the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, detailing the contribution that he believes the new department can make to inter-institutional relations in the United Kingdom. I beg to move.
Moved, That this House takes note of the report of the Select Committee on the Constitution on Devolution: Inter-Institutional Relations in the United Kingdom (2nd Report, HL Paper 28).(Lord Norton of Louth.)
Baroness Gould of Potternewton: My Lords, I start by thanking the Chairman for chairing this very interesting session of the Constitution Committee. I should also like to thank our Clerk and our adviser, Alan Trench.
Examination into aspects of the progress of devolution by the Constitution Committee provided the opportunity not only to consider the subject in the title of the report, but to consider the devolution settlements more widely. It is important to read the report as a whole, together with the substantial and informed evidence that was presented to the committee.
As the report states in paragraph 6, devolution is now treated as a settled part of the UK's constitutional arrangements, as reiterated by the noble Lord, Lord Norton. Polling evidence produced by the Electoral Commission towards the end of last year confirms that, indicating that there was greater trust in the devolved bodies to act in the best interests of Scotland and Wales than there was confidence in the UK Parliament. That is not a surprising fact, as decision-making is brought closer to the people, which is what devolution is about.
Support for devolution has risen in both Scotland and Wales since the referendums were held. That support was echoed by all those who gave evidence, irrespective of political persuasion. As the noble Lord
I intend to concentrate my remarks on Scotland and Wales. I do not intend to discuss the Barnett formulawhich the noble Lord, Lord Norton, did not discuss eitherover which we spent interminable hours. However, I reiterate the words of the report that the committee did not have a neat ready-made alternative to Barnett. There may be a time when a review is necessary, and thought needs to be given over a period of time to how we should replace Barnett, appreciating the complexity of a needs assessment process. We should also appreciate that my noble friend Lord Richard's commission is considering the issue.
I do not intend to follow the noble Lord, Lord Norton, on commenting on the new ministerial arrangements, except to say that it is clear that there is no longer the requirement for a full-time Secretary of State in both those areas. Instead, I want to put on record a bit of the background to the devolution legislation.
Paragraph 7 of the report refers to the question of asymmetry, and the consequent fundamental differences between the settlements for Scotland and Wales. Certainly, at the beginning of our deliberations there was concern about the possible effects of those differing settlements, which one interviewee referred to as a haphazard system. That negative attitude was wrong. Differing societies do not fit into nice neat little boxes.
Account has to be taken that the history, dynamics, local needs and local circumstances of Scotland and Wales are quite different. Scotland has always seen itself as a sovereign nation; the Treaty of Union in 1707 was seen as a marriage of convenience between two sovereign nations. It was asserted by one witness that devolution works well in Scotland, because it has always been part of Scotland's agenda.
The committee was reminded by the interesting and informative memorandum of Professor McCrone, professor of sociology at the University of Edinburgh, that the Scottish Parliament simply provided direct democratic accountability over the extensive apparatus of government that already existed. The situation in Wales could not have been more different. Mr John Osmond, director of the Institute of Welsh Affairs, referred to the Scottish Parliament as being the keystone in an arch of an already existing institutional structure, while the National Assembly for Wales, rather than being the keystone to the arch, had to set about building that arch. The institutions as in Scotland did not exist; rather the Welsh identity is built around a sense of locality, language and culture.
Wales has also historically been much more closely integrated with England, and its systems reflect that closeness, the Welsh Office being in effect an administrative arm of Whitehall departments in Wales. Scotland had been planning for its Parliament through its convention for about 10 years. Wales went
The consequences of those very different backgrounds are that the Scotland Act defines all matters which are reserved, while the Government of Wales Act defines those matters which are devolvedbasically, the Assembly taking on the powers of the Secretary of State for Wales. Crucially, paragraph 11 of the report reminds us that although all the devolution arrangements differ, they are against the fundamental background and position that the UK Parliament at Westminster retains its sovereignty and continues to be able to legislate throughout the United Kingdom. However, during passage of the Scotland Bill, it was laid down that by convention Westminster would not normally legislate on devolved matters without the consent of the Scottish Parliament. The Sewel convention, much talked about during our weeks in Scotland, was born on that occasion. The Scottish Parliament agreed to more than 40 Sewel Motions, I believe, during its first Session. So the legislative pattern as it affects Scotland is reasonably clear cut and understood.
However, it was pointed out to us that that was not necessarily the case in Wales. Mr John Osmond took us through what he described as a very complex formulation. To work out what the powers of the Assembly are means trawling through very many different Acts, the functions being spread over 300 Acts of Parliament and statutes and a transfer of functions order which runs into a massive number of pages. He was also of the view that there was some confusion over the means by which legislation affecting Wales is presented and there was sometimes difficulty in interpreting the legislation as it affects Wales.
However, those were not the views of the leader of the Welsh Assembly, Rhodri Morgan. He stated that experience on the legislative process had so far been reasonably positive, whether it be by a Wales-only Bill, Welsh clauses or a clearly demarcated section on Wales in an England and Wales Bill. He said:
In welcoming my noble friend the Minister to his new post, may I ask him whether he believes that there is not a need for greater consistency in the way in which legislation in respect of Wales is framed and how
I should like to comment only briefly on the queries around the effectiveness of the inter-institutional relationships as they have already been outlined in detail by the chair, the noble Lord, Lord Norton. We were told by the Ministers we interviewed that the arrangements set out in the memorandum of understanding are robust and flexible and that the informal inter-relationship arrangements were working well and smoothly. Of course we would not dispute that. However, I also appreciate that we cannot always foresee the future. But like the noble Lord, Lord Norton, I think that the question still has to be asked. If the waters were to become choppy, would the current arrangements be robust enough? I am sure that all problems ultimately would be resolved, but my concern is that the process would become protracted and that would have serious consequences for the progress of the legislative programme.
Does not my noble friend the Minister believe that one should not wait for a problem, but rather prepare for it and hope that one never has to use that preparation? Perhaps we need to examine the experience of the Canadians, who looked at more formal arrangements which were established pragmatically and over a period of time.
The final point I wish to raise relates to the section of the reportparagraphs 144 and 148, already touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Nortonon the lessons for Westminster on practices and procedure. In Scotland, pre-legislative scrutiny is not a matter of determination for each individual Bill but is an established and integral part of legislation. It follows through, I think, their long-term commitment to a civil society. The 17 parliamentary committees hear from civic groups, business interests and other stakeholders. They meet in different locations and so allow different channels to be engaged in the political process and provide, I believe, for greater democracy.
Both Scotland and Wales determine their business arrangements through business committees. Those are formal committees involving all party groups, but are considerably more open than our procedures through the usual channels. The business is more clearly determined in advance while at the same time still allowing for emergency changes to be made to the timetable. The programme of business is seen to be based on consensus and provides for much greater transparency and understanding.
Another feature in both Scotland and Wales is that of greater accessibility for the media and the public. As the report states, the arrangements in Westminster are getting better, but the resources for dissemination of information and for public relations pale beside those enjoyed by the Scottish Parliament. Those points may be seen as peripheral to the overall picture and to the volume of the report, but I firmly believe that increasing public engagement with democracy and bringing greater openness and increased participation
Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen: My Lords, I, too, begin by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, on instigating today's debate on the Select Committee's report on devolution, which I read with great interest.
I would not have been taking part in this debate if I had not attended an event in Cardiff last weekend. Before I became a Member of the House, I was able regularly to visit both Scotland and Wales, and to a lesser extent Northern Ireland, as part of my union work. I always enjoyed those occasions. Sadly I am no longer able to participate in them. However, last weekend I took part in a memorial lecture held to remember a dear friend and former union National Executive Committee member, and I had the pleasure of renewing contact with many of my friends and acquaintances in Wales. Your Lordships will realise that, on Friday last, feelings in Wales were running quite high. As an Englishwoman going to Wales I wondered what I was going towards. However, there was the usual Welsh welcome.
There was confusion about the proposal relating to the Wales Office and in particular to the position, or non-position, of the Secretary of State for Wales. Of course there had been conflicting reports. The first reports appeared to say that the Wales Office had been subsumed under the new constitution department, which was to be headed by our new Lord Chancellor, and that there was no longer a post of Secretary of State for Wales. By the time I arrived in Wales, thank goodness, the second round of reports and the Secretary of State himself, Peter Hain, had made it clear that the position had not been abolished and that, indeed, he was exceedingly alive and well in his post. Yesterday I was greatly pleased to hear the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor tell the House that he could confirm that he could not override the wishes of the Secretaries of State for Wales and for Scotland and that there were no plans to change devolutionary powers.
At the event in Cardiff, I was pleased to share the platform with a very old friend who is now a member of the National Assembly for Wales. Edwina Hart, who is the Minister for Social Justice, is a strong and extremely competent woman. She gave us a rundown of what the Assembly had achieved in the fields of equality and social justice since its inceptionissues close to my heart and to the hearts of many others present today. I cannot today outline all that she said, but she spoke for a considerable time about the issues and the progress which had been made. It made very good listening indeed. She also proudly pointed out
On speaking to friends later in the day, it was obvious that there is a great deal of satisfaction with the way the Assembly is working. Indeed, there is not just satisfaction but great pride in the way it is working. I noticed the difference particularly because I had not visited Wales for a couple of years. I was told that the Members of the Assembly respond more positively and quickly to local issues than Westminster can. I was told that they understand what local issues and wishes are about and why they have come to the forefront, and that they want to make the Assembly a success for the people of Wales. That was not said lightly; it was impressed upon me by a number of those with whom I spoke.
I came away from Wales deeply impressed with how devolution appeared to have empowered the people of Wales in a most tangible way. I also felt that the dynamics within that process in no way diminished their linkage with other parts of the United Kingdom, rather they enhanced that. I always thought that there was a logic in the devolvement of power to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Unlike some, I did not believe that devolution would lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom.
My visit to Wales reinforced my feelings about the importance of devolution; hence my short speech this morning. I read the report of the Select Committee, and the Government's response to it, with interest. It struck me as I read it that the recent changes affecting both the Wales Office and the Scotland Office would be welcomed by the committee, and the noble Lord, Lord Norton, confirmed that this morning. It is a move to bring the devolved institutions closer together and yet they retain their voices in the Cabinet, which is very important. In both cases, Scotland and Wales have people who know and understand them to champion their causes.
I have three issues which I should like to raise stemming from the report's recommendations. First, I welcome the assurances which were given yesterday by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor that the close workings of the devolved administrations would continue. I hope that my noble friend will be able to rebut the suggestions in the Select Committee's report that the Government have been rather too complacent because things are working well.
Secondly, has the Minister any further information about improving Westminster legislation which affects the National Assembly for Wales? For example, in their response the Government stated that they were considering expanding the advice in the devolution guide affecting Wales. My third point was referred to by my noble friend Lady Gould. Does my noble friend agree with the committee that there are lessons that can be learnt from the various devolved assemblies which may benefit our deliberations here in the Houses of Parliament?
I have concentrated my contribution on Wales but I believe devolution settlements generally to be a most positive step forward, and one which is here to stay, as noble Lords have already stated. I have enjoyed taking part in the debate.
Lord Morgan: My Lords, this subject has become more exciting since the Motion was originally tabled. The changes have occurred with which we are all familiar and which other noble Lords have mentioned. That indicates the great importance of devolution. It is a policy that does the Government credit. It is perhaps the boldest and most radical thing that the Government have done in six years along with their other measures of constitutional reform. Curiously enough, there is little discussion of it. Constitutional reform seems to me a kind of elite issue. It is not widely discussed and does not attract large attendances in this House. Therefore, it is valuable that the Select Committee produced the report. It is to its credit and, if I may say so, very much to the credit of our chairman. We are extremely fortunate in having the noble Lord, Lord Norton, as our chairman. He embodies a combination of fine scholarship and good humour, which is greatly to our benefit.
Devolution has been a success. It has made government more democratic and more locally responsive. It takes the Labour Party back to its older roots of local civic accountability and to the message of the ILP, Keir Hardie, George Lansbury and, indeed, the young Aneurin Bevan before the Labour Party embarked upon the bureaucratic centralism of the view that, "the gentleman from Whitehall knows best". Devolution has been a success. It has also been a success for the Conservative Party which resisted it but has found in both Scotland and Wales that it now has a constructive role that it has not had for many, many years; indeed, in the case of Wales, since Mr Gladstone won the election of 1868, which is quite a long timeprecipitate reform!
The appendix to the report questionsthis is an important pointhow popular devolution is and how much interest it attracts. Clearly there is much more to be done. The polls are low. There is a theory that the low polls show that the Assembly and the Parliament are as little regarded as people in Westminster, so it is almost a kind of triumph. But that is a specious argument. Clearly we have to do more to make devolution acceptable. I am sure that in Wales a major problem is that the Assembly does not do enough, and that there would be much more interest in the Assembly if it had more effective powers. One matter that I believe is a very welcome feature of devolution is divergence. That is the whole point. The fact that there are separate policies on the elderly and student fees, and so on, in Scotland, and in Wales on prescription charges, for example, and also on student fees is welcome. As the noble Baroness, Lady Gibson, said, forecasts of the break-up of the United Kingdomwhat one of our civil servants called "the
Our report calls for more coherence, for the Constitution Unit in the secretariat to be strengthened, for the Joint Ministerial Committee to be beefed up and for the Council of the Isles actually to meet now and again. I hope that the new ministry under the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconerperhaps my noble friend the Minister can respond to this pointwill help to provide some of that coherence, and put intergovernmental relations in the United Kingdom on a new footing and be proactive. I hope that the new ministry will not be merely a co-ordinating, tidying-up ministry but something that will energise and give life, coherence and substance to this whole important process.
As the noble Lord, Lord Norton, observed, devolution has been a very British development so far. It has all been very informal with lots of good will. We always have good will in Britain, as we know; indeed, we have done over the centuries, except in the seventeenth. The report highlights that informal style. The system works partly due to the highly skilled, highly trained and professional Civil Service and partly, as the noble Lord said, through the political affinity of the various governments. But that can be overdone. We have heard from Rhodri Morgan of the "clear red water" in Cardiff. I assure the House as an historian that the political affinity between Wales and England can be highly exaggerated. But it seems to me that we need more open mechanisms, not merely because of possible points of conflict but to make devolution work. Informality in some ways works against devolution and, as it were, confirms the system that we now have.
I should like to deal with two particular problems, both of which were covered in some measure in the fascinating speech of my noble friend Lady Gould. As regards Secretaries of State, clearly the new moves are a recognition of the fact that the process of reform is still very much under way. Helen Liddell had no real job. That emerged from our report. She had 85 civil servants, compared to 41 in the Wales Office. I would be grateful if the Minister would tell me where those 85 people will go. It is not merely a question of under which roof they will operate, but what they will do, and I suppose one might ask whether they are necessary at all.
There is still a job for the Secretary of State for Wales but, in my opinion, as a transitional figure. Whoever he isit has always been a "he"it is very odd when he acts as a kind of Janus-faced intermediary between the Welsh Assembly and the Cabinet. He can present the Assembly's views, but also say that he does not agree with them. That seems unsatisfactory.
The Government's responseI agree that it is thintalks about the Wales Office and the Scotland Office as centres of excellence. I am not quite sure what is implied there. However, I would be grateful to hear from the Minister precisely what will be the status of the new constitutional affairs ministry. What will be
My other point was admirably made by my noble friend Lady Gould. The legislative process of course reflects asymmetrywe understand the reasons for thatbut also incoherence and instability in government. I do not wish to say much about Scotland, for the very good reason that I do not know much about it, but I observe that the famous Sewel Motions have been very much usedmore so than anticipated. It would be worth exploring whether the excessive use of Sewel Motions does not mitigate against the process and principle of devolution.
The situation in Wales is totally unsatisfactory. I declare an interest as a member of the Institute of Welsh Affairs, headed by John Osmond, and I agree with what that institute says. The Welsh legislative process is all over the place. We sometimes have Welsh Bills; there have been two in four years. There are Welsh provisions dotted about in other Bills, such as the Communications Bill; indeed, one needs an extremely shrewd detector system to find out where the Welsh bits are in that legislation. Incidentally, I think it a great mistake that broadcasting does not come under the Welsh Assembly. Alternately, English Bills have separate Welsh clauses that can be struck down here, quite beyond the control of the elected representatives of Wales. There can also, of course, be extensions to secondary legislation. That is profoundly unstable.
The two Welsh Bills both show some of the problems. The children's Bill was actually rescued in this House after going through the processes of the Home Office, which had weakened the Bill and thereby diminished the original point established by the Welsh Assembly. Why the Welsh health Bill came to this Parliament at all I simply cannot imagine. It was side by side with a UKEngland and Wales, at leasthealth Bill. That illustrates the lack of coherence in the process of Welsh legislation.
The Welsh Assembly has little control over output or outcome. As our admirable constitutional adviser Alan Trench explained the other day, it does not have control of compliance under the proposals made by Professor Rawlings on whether measures purporting to relate to Wales comply. That is a great problem. I am very grateful for the presence of my noble friend Lord Richard, whose commission will report. It has received important proposals from Professor Rawlings about the need for the Welsh Assembly to have primary powers comparable with Scotland. I hope very much that that will be the outcome. I hope that the Department for Constitutional Affairs will be of assistance and not an obstacle to that process.
Like my noble friend Lady Gould, I propose to say very little about the Barnett formula. It is like the Schleswig-Holstein question, of which Palmerston said that the only person who understood it was in a
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