HC Deb 30 October 2000 vol 355 cc561-72

Amendments made: No. 46, in page 24, line 13, column 3, at end insert—

'Section 19.
Section 19ZA.
In section 57(5), the words from "and" to the end of the subsection.
Section 58(6).
In section 68, subsection (2)(b) and the word "or" immediately preceding it and, in subsection (3), the words "or, as the case may be, eight" and "or (b)".'.

No. 47, in page 24, line 17, column 3, at end insert—

'1980 c. 44. Education (Scotland) Act 1980. In Schedule 4, paragraph 14.'.

No. 48, in page 24, line 26, column 3, at end insert—

'1988 c. 40. Education Reform Act 1988. In Schedule 12, paragraphs 19 and 79.'.

No. 49, in page 24, line 26, column 3, at end insert—

'1988 c. 43. Housing (Scotland) Act 1988. Section 2(11).'.

No. 50, in page 24, line 27, column 3, at end insert—

'1989 c. 39. Self-Governing Schools etc. (Scotland) Act. 1989. In Schedule 10, paragraph 6(3).
1992 c. 13. Further and Higher Education Act 1992., In Schedule 8, paragraph 88.
1992 c. 37. Further and Higher Education (Scotland) Act 1992. In Schedule 9, paragraph 5(4).,'.

No. 51, in page 24, line 31, column 3, at end insert—

'1994 c. 30. Education Act 1994. In Schedule 2, paragraph 6(4).'.

No. 52, in page 24, line 38, column 3, at end insert—

'1996 c. 56. Education Act 1996. In Schedule 37, paragraph 42 and, in paragraph 117(4), paragraph (b) and the word "and" immediately preceding it.'.

No. 53, in page 24, line 46, column 3, at end insert—

'2000 c. 21. Learning and Skills Act 2000. In Schedule 9, paragraph 10.'.

[Mr. Touhig.]

Order for Third Reading read.

6.31 pm
Mr. Mike O'Brien

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

The Bill is a major milestone on the road towards race equality. It is the first significant amendment to the Race Relations Act in almost a quarter of a century. It is a necessary and important part of the legislative and administrative framework that the Government are creating to put public authorities where they should be: at the forefront, leading by example on race equality issues.

The Bill has its origins in the murder of the teenager Stephen Lawrence, a tragic and untimely death compounded by the failure of public services to respond to the needs of the victim and his family—a failure to provide a response that most would expect if faced with similar circumstances; indeed, a response most of us can take for granted.

The Stephen Lawrence inquiry report recommended that race relations legislation should apply to the police and that chief officers of police should be made vicariously liable for the actions of their officers. The Government accepted that recommendation and, in doing so, promised to extend the law not only to the police, but to other public authorities. That approach is consistent with the inquiry's finding that the problem of inequality in public authorities and of inequality in their provision of services to the public is not confined to the police. It is a problem in many other public institutions. We as a community and society must address that.

The Bill, which today we will send back to another place, will outlaw discrimination in public functions, with very limited and justifiable exceptions. Moreover, it will place a duty on specified public authorities to promote race equality—to avoid discrimination before it occurs.

The House should be particularly proud of the Bill. In it, we are sending a clear message to public authorities about the standards that we expect of them—standards that are being given the full force of the law as recommended by the inquiry. We are saying that public authorities must treat all British citizens equally. regardless of their race or the colour of their skin. Many ethnic minorities are proud to describe themselves as black British, Asian British, Chinese British or just plain British.

The Government want equal treatment for ethnic minorities to be reflected in employment practices, in policy development and in the implementation and provision of services. We as a nation cannot afford to waste talent. We need all our communities to be able to realise their potential free from bigotry, racial prejudice or downright ignorance. That will help to achieve the goal, building a strong inclusive society and a successful multiracial society.

The Bill has been greatly improved during its passage through the House and, indeed, through another place. Government commitments in another place have been delivered in the Commons. We introduced many amendments that have been accepted by the House through constructive and helpful scrutiny. We have included indirect discrimination in the Bill; defined public authorities widely for the purpose of outlawing discrimination; and provided for a positive duty for public authorities to promote race equality.

The contribution of hon. Members throughout the House to the work in Committee deserves particular mention. I want to take the opportunity to pay particular tribute to the constructive approach of the representatives of both the Liberal Democrats and the Conservative party. Without tempting fate, I think that we had a model Committee. I am grateful to the hon. Members for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) and for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) for their contributions. In particular, I thank my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office, for his contribution, my hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig)—the Whip on the Committee—and the members of the Committee themselves, together with those who chaired it.

I do not normally name officials who deal with Bills, particularly controversial Bills—they might not thank me for it—but the Bill has had widespread support in the House. Callton Young and his team of officials deserve special thanks for the tremendous job they have done in preparing the Bill. The benefits of the Bill will be benefits that their efforts have brought about.

The consideration of the Bill by this House means that it should go back to another place in good shape. I, for one, look forward to seeing its effects when we get it into law, ensuring that we create the successful multiracial society that the House wants: then we can all look back and feel proud that we have been associated with the Bill. I commend it to the House.


Mr. Lidington

I unreservedly support the Bill's objectives and hope that it will in practice have the beneficial impact that the Government believe it will.

It is important that, when we consider the Bill's impact, we are prepared to remind ourselves of two things. First, it is not just through Acts of Parliament, legislation, rules and regulations that we will build a successful multiracial society. As I said on Second Reading, legislation has a part to play. As one looks at the current state of the law, it is difficult to argue, if one believes that there should be laws against racial discrimination, that we should have a law that includes the private sector and part of the public sector, but excludes an ill-defined, indeterminate part of the public sector in the way that the 1976 Act does. However, it is in the acts, the decisions, the growing together of individuals, families and communities throughout this country that we will see the creation of a tolerant society that accepts people of different ethnic backgrounds and that appreciates the contribution that people of different ethnic communities bring.

Secondly, we need to be aware, when we think about the Bill's impact and consider how future Ministers should implement the powers that it gives them, of the complexity of community relations. Last week's report from the Office for Standards in Education reminded us of that. It pointed out, rightly, the under-achievement of far too many black boys in schools, but it pointed out, too, that pupils from other ethnic minorities, particularly from some of the British Asian minorities, are achieving very high standards, securing good results at public examinations and good places at universities and colleges. We need to look at those problems in all their complexity. So much will depend on how the legislation is enforced and interpreted.

On Second Reading and in Committee we spent a great deal of time debating the Bill's impact on the police. More than once I voiced the concerns that had been expressed to me by serving police officers that the Bill could, albeit unintentionally, inhibit their ability to deal effectively with crime, especially street crime. In London, where many police forces have stopped using their powers to stop and search, there has been a significant rise in street crime in the past 12 months.

During our earlier proceedings, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien), repeatedly assured me that there was no reason for responsible police officers to be fearful. The Government's consistent view has been that, provided that a police officer complies with the requirements of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and that any deployment of officers or any targeting of particular crimes or particular villains could be justified objectively in terms of preventing or reducing crime, there should be no problems under race relations legislation. I welcome those assurances, and provided that they are borne out in reality once the Bill is on the statute book, I promise the Minister that I will be the first to cheer.

We have a real problem of mistrust of our police among far too many young British blacks and Asians. If the Bill will help to ease that tension and build confidence and trust, it will be welcome. Another real problem is that police officers in London and elsewhere feel that they are under enormous pressure, with near-impossible expectations being laid upon them. I pay tribute to the representative organizations—the Police Federation, the Police Superintendents Association of England and Wales and the Association of Chief Police Officers—for the way in which they have sought to work with Ministers on the detail of the legislation. They have given a great deal of thought to how they can change and develop best practice within the police service so that they can effectively fight and reduce crime and, at the same time, help to rebuild trust and confidence in their service among young people from ethnic communities, as that is sorely needed.

Earlier in the debate, I expressed my concerns that we should avoid a culture of litigation and compensation and I was grateful for the assurances, particularly from the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office, that the Government would consult closely with affected organisations before making specific proposals on the enforcement of the general duty.

Hon. Members from all three parties who have participated in debates on the Bill have found them constructive and good-tempered. There will be occasions when we shall continue to disagree as we approach the subject from different political and philosophical perspectives, but I believe that we are united in our commitment to build a successful multiracial society in the United Kingdom. I remain an optimist about our chances of doing just that.

The Bill was triggered by Sir William Macpherson's report into the murder of Stephen Lawrence and the appalling failure of the investigation into that crime. In the past two years, there has been a great deal of at times ill-tempered debate about race relations, policing and crime. I was heartened when I saw this week's edition of The Voice. I confess that it is not always my regular reading, nor is it probably a publication that looks for compliments from Conservative spokesmen. However, I felt that the editorial, in accepting that young black men are responsible for a great deal of street robbery in London, just as young white men are responsible for most violence that does not involve robbery and middle-class white men tend to be responsible for most fraud, took the debate about the relationship between race relations, policing and crime onto a different, more mature level, from which together, as a community, we can address the issues seriously.

I wish the Bill well. I hope that the fears that I have expressed during our debates are misplaced and I look forward to seeing what transpires when it reaches the statute book.

6.46 pm
Mr. Simon Hughes

Like the Minister and the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) I am pleased and proud to be part of the process of bringing the Bill very near to becoming legislation. I did not want to interrupt the Minister, but if he has time at the end of the debate, perhaps he will let us know when he anticipates orders will be laid to bring the Bill into force, provided that it gets through the other place and receives Royal Assent in November. That is a matter for the Government and I would encourage the Minister—and through him, the Home Secretary—to lay the orders so that the Bill comes into force this year, for reasons that I shall turn to in a moment.

As the Minister said, the Bill does two hugely important things. It has taken nearly 25 years for the original and very worthwhile race relations legislation, introduced by the then Labour Government, to be updated in this way. It takes the duty not to discriminate across the public sector and adds the duty that we discussed earlier to take proactive steps to promote good race relations and equality of opportunity and eliminate unlawful racial discrimination. Those are hugely important measures.

I share the Minister's view that it would be a model Bill for people who study politics. It had goodwill from the beginning although, unusually, it started in the House of Lords. There were good, robust debates. Many amendments were tabled—there were defeats and successes—and it was amended significantly in both Houses, resulting in a Bill that we are all much more satisfied with than we were at the beginning. Yet, as the Minister said, it has received almost no coverage in the parliamentary press or elsewhere.

Like others present in the Chamber, I am a London Member. I represent a constituency in south-east London. I trained there as a youth leader and have lived in south London since my student days. The Bill matters a lot to mixed-race communities such as ours which comprise all sorts of different backgrounds, cultures, faiths and traditions. It matters a lot that they can trust the public services and that the public services can trust them. If we are to have a society in which black and Asian people and people of different faiths, colours, creeds and backgrounds can become Members of Parliament, Cabinet Ministers, leaders of industry, head teachers of schools, chancellors of universities and Speakers of the House of Commons, we must start by inculcating and providing the proper public authority responsibilities that are in the Bill.

I will not dwell on the one or two disputes that remain between ourselves and the Government, but we hope that some of those will be taken up. A set of equality issues is still to be taken on, including religious equality issues about which some faiths understandably have strong feelings. There is more work to be done. I am not complacent, and I know that the Minister is not complacent. I wish to thank the Minister and his colleagues, particularly the team of civil servants which I know included somebody seconded from another Department to lead the team. I also pay tribute to colleagues, both here and at the other end of the building, who have worked hard.

Expressly, I want to pay tribute to Doreen and Neville Lawrence, who made their tragedy something that will leave a legacy that will probably be more valuable than they could ever have imagined. Those who have been privileged to meet them, and those of us who sat in the inquiry, know that the Bill is probably one of the most valuable things that that terrible trauma in Eltham can have produced—legislation to make our society a fairer and less discriminatory place.

I pay tribute to the inquiry, to Sir William Macpherson and to his assessors, who were there day after day and, in the end, were clear about what needed to be done. I pay tribute to the Commission for Racial Equality, which keeps us up to the mark all the time; I wish its new chief executive and director well. I thank people such as Richard Jarman and Barbara Cohen, who serve us well. I pay tribute also to a researcher of mine, Simon Hunt, who has now left for better-paid employment at the Greater London Authority. He did all the work on this Bill until, literally, a couple of weeks ago.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir R. Smith)—who has just arrived—served with me on the Committee. He would have been with me today had travel been easier, and I thank him for his support.

Mr. Mike O'Brien

The hon. Gentleman asked me about the commencement order. We must undertake consultation in relation to the immigration function. We are anxious to move on, but the consultation will need time. All I can say to him, in the words of Martin Luther King, is "How long? Not long."

Mr. Hughes

That is an assurance and I know of the Government's commitment to get this Bill on to the statute book.

In one of the idle moments that we occasionally have in this place, I checked some figures. We have had 43 Government Bills in this Session, 28 of which have so far been enacted. We have had 12 Home Office Bills; four have been enacted, one withdrawn and one defeated. There are six still to finish, including this one. In the end, this one may be as significant as any of the others. I hope that, either this year or very early next year, this Bill will become law. We can then start as we mean to go on in a much fairer Britain for people of all backgrounds. That would be a tribute to Stephen Lawrence.

6.53 pm
Ms Oona King (Bethnal Green and Bow)

I join all colleagues in welcoming a momentous leap forward in protection from race discrimination. The Bill embodies the implementation of the Government's commitment in response to the Stephen Lawrence inquiry to extend the Race Relations Act 1976. I am particularly pleased because it underpins the right of all British citizens to receive not just equal treatment, but fairer access to services.

In a diverse society—particularly in constituencies such as mine—good race relations means protecting the civil liberties of all members of society. This is highlighted by the fluid nature of the situation regarding ethnic minorities, and by the term itself. After all, in Tower Hamlets we must consider that, in some areas, the ethnic minority is the white community. That shows clearly that it is in the interests of all British people, black and white, to ensure that we have robust legislation protecting us all from racial discrimination.

Having said that, my constituency clearly illustrates that black and Asian people suffer the greatest burden of direct and indirect discrimination. The most important provisions of the Bill are, first, to make it unlawful for public authorities to discriminate on grounds of race and, secondly, to impose a duty to promote equality on public authorities. Taken together, those measures represent a major breakthrough in anti-discrimination legislation on which the Government must be congratulated.

I particularly want to thank the Government for their acceptance that tackling indirect and institutional discrimination is critical if the Bill is to offer serious protection. There has been a controversial debate in Britain about the validity of this approach and about tackling institutional racism. People have asked where we will end up if we start here. They say that it may be a slippery slope. I hope that, if we start here, we will end up with a society where the colour of a person's skin does not determine his opportunity or treatment under the law.

That strikes a chord with me personally, as my family experience has been shaped by indirect discrimination. My father was arrested and imprisoned because, as a black student in the American south, he asked for equal treatment with his white peers. He was brought up in a place where the local authority and the Government routinely discriminated institutionally against black people. Recently, the judge who sentenced my father—now 98 years old—wrote to President Clinton saying that his judgment in my father's case had been coloured by race. How often do black people get an opportunity—after waiting 40 years, it has to be said—to see a judge put in writing to the head of state that his judgment was coloured by race? It does not happen very often. Forty years is a long time to wait for a Government to recognise the evils of institutional racism.

In this country, we have been waiting for just under a quarter of a century to strengthen the Race Relations Act 1976 and to achieve the racial equality that is the Act's central aim. The CRE carried out reviews of the 1976 Act in 1985 and 1992, but its recommendations were ignored by the then Conservative Government. I am pleased to hear how positively the Conservative spokesman, the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington), spoke about the Bill.

In contrast, the Labour Government were quick to progress positive race relations as soon as we were elected. We did that in the first instance by setting up the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, which reported in February 1999. One of the key recommendations was that the full force of the race relations legislation should apply to all police officers and that chief officers of police should be made vicariously liable for the acts and omissions of their officers relevant to that legislation. Following the inquiry, the Home Secretary promised to introduce legislation to bring authorities, including the police, within the scope of the Act. True to his word—as ever—here it is.

Having said how much I welcome the Bill, I wish to point out my concern about enforcement. How will the duty to promote equality be enforced? Could the Minister elaborate? Obviously, the CRE's role will be crucial in terms of guidance to organisations, issuing codes of practice, enforcing compliance and, if necessary, taking authorities to court. As the CRE has pointed out, compliance with the duty to promote equality can be audited by other means; for example, by Ofsted or by Her Majesty's inspectorates of schools and of prisons. What types of audit does the Minister envisage? Will they take place annually?

My other concern is about religious discrimination. I was reminded of this by my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy). He has had to leave because of an important constituency meeting, but he is naturally concerned about this debate as he is approximately the same age as Stephen Lawrence would be, were he still alive. Under the 1976 Act, Sikhs and Jews are protected, but Muslims are not. Although that has been the result of case law and interpretation rather than a specific provision in the Act, it has given offence to many Muslims and to anyone who cannot accept religious discrimination. I commend the work of Lord Ahmed on the subject, and the extra protection that the Human Rights Act, which took effect on 2 October, offers. Will the Minister tell us whether further legislation on religious discrimination is being considered?

I hope that the Minister will consider the seriousness of the discrimination that British Muslims suffer. I know that he is aware of that, and that it is difficult to untangle—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady, but she is straying outside the bounds of the Bill. On Third Reading, she must confine her remarks to the content of the Bill.

Ms King

Thank you for that guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, of which I am in need. One day, I shall understand all the various rules about what can be said and when it can be said.

The Bill accepts that many strands contribute to the poverty of British Muslims. They are more than four times more likely than white households to live in poverty. More than 60 per cent. fall below the poverty line; for white families, the figure is 16 per cent. Given all the contributory strands, such as education and employment, will the Minister let me know the Government's thinking on improving that position if it is not covered by the Bill?

No debate on the issue would be complete without a tribute to Doreen and Neville Lawrence. We have heard many tributes from both sides of the House. It is fitting that the Government have changed the race relations legislation in this country largely as a result of the enormous dedication and commitment that the Lawrences have shown. The Bill is truly a fitting memorial to their son, Stephen.

7.2 pm

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West)

I apologise for not being present for the Minister's opening speech. Travel from Humberside has not been easy today.

I welcome the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) on behalf of the Conservative party. I listened with interest to the words of the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), and I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King).

Stephen Lawrence would have been 26, were he still alive. I congratulate the Government on setting up an inquiry into his death. Richard Stone, one of the assessors, made a comment that influenced me enormously. He said that we should not expect the victims to overcome injustice; those who have greater influence or power, or are more established members of the community, are responsible for putting things right.

I accept that responsibility, and I shall continue to pursue it until the colour of my skin is as important as the colour of my eyes or my hair. People may notice it, but it tells no more about me. I may have no hair left soon, so only the colour of my eyes and that of my skin will remain.

The Bill is important. However, it is more important that people act in the spirit of the Race Relations Act 1976 and the Bill, which amends it. I welcome the fact that the police accept that the responsibility will fall vicariously on chief officers' shoulders, but that by itself is not enough. Chief officers have senior officers, middle-ranking officers, managers, sergeants and others beneath them. A high proportion of police officers already do their best to treat people fairly and equitably. I believe that, in five years, the police will be able to look back to this year and appreciate the progress that they have made since the Bill was enacted. They can look back now at the progress that they have made in the past five years. Of those two statements, one is true and one will be true.

Much baggage hangs over the police, and not only the Metropolitan police. I was pleased that the inspector of police and the Minister were present at the first meeting of the Black Police Association in Birmingham. At the meeting, it was clear that some senior officers, who had ethnic minority officers with them, treated them as a normal part of the police service. I suspect that others believed that, while they were not undergoing a charade, they were playing a role to show, "We're all equal now." Yet I do not believe that that is true in all parts of all police services in this country. It is true of the majority, and of a growing number of parts of the police service, but it is not generally true.

Let us consider three examples in the Metropolitan police area. I am glad that the police resolved the matter with Detective Inspector David Michael without having to go through a tribunal. That was wise of both sides. In such a case, the relevant officer might have done better in monetary terms by fighting it out, and I have no doubt that the Metropolitan police could have made various comments in an open forum. They wisely came together. That could apply to outstanding cases when the Bill changes the current Act.

Without going into the details or the merits of the different claims and hearings in relation to Sergeant Gurpal Virdi, or those that may arise in relation to Police Constable Manmohan Sandhu, it would be wise for the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis to look through the outstanding cases and ascertain the number that can be resolved by agreement with the relevant officers or employees.

Perhaps the Minister will say that, had I been present earlier, I would have heard his comments about people outside the police rather than the police dealing with their employees. I accept that. However, the police should be able to draw a line on both outside and inside complaints and, when possible, to resolve them by agreement. I believe that, in the case of former Sergeant Gurpal Virdi, and other cases around the country, it would be possible to reach a satisfactory, honourable agreement, which could sweep away much of the past and allow people to move forward without tying up police time and action.

I believe that I was chosen to represent Worthing, West partly because, when asked what was effectively a race question, I gave the sort of promise that I made at the beginning of my speech. I outlined my determination as a Member of Parliament to try to help to put matters right. When people accuse the Conservative party of being racist, I would say that, in one of the safer Conservative seats—one of the whiter constituencies, if I may put it that way—people want to embrace a modern Britain and the sort of inclusiveness that is shown by an extended story that I shall abbreviate.

In one of Dorothy Sayers' essays, a man whom she calls Budgery is asked, "Are you English?" He replies, "Yes, of course." He is then asked, "Did your ancestors arrive with William the Conqueror?" "Oh no" he replies, "There were Budgerys here before Billy the Conk. But of course, there is some Norman blood in us, and Sir Gilbert brought back a Saracen wife from the third crusade, and so-and-so married a daughter of Pocohontas, and Robert Budgery was black. He came from south America—no one knew who his mother was. The Cornish branch was, of course, Spanish—the Armada, you know." It goes on. The character unrolls Britain's history as he introduces more people. He concludes, "I am of course English, although my mother's father was perhaps Irish and my mother's mother was Scottish." People can accept that sort of inclusiveness with pride.

When people talk about the cricket test, I do not understand why I cannot cheer for the Irish because of my Irish ancestry, just as my wife may cheer the English because her great uncle captained England before the first world war, even though she was born in Scotland. Such mixtures will become increasingly common and need to be made increasingly open.

In my constituency, a young mother told me that she wanted to move to an area where there were more mixed-race children in school because she did not want her child to feel different. Her husband said that he would prefer to move closer to the police station. He explained that, as he was arrested so often, such a move would save journey time. He is black, and he was stopped three times in two days on suspicion of excess alcohol. The roadside test and the two tests in the police station showed that he was teetotal. One begins to wonder what police sergeants, inspectors and superintendents are doing.

We are talking about setting standards, which no doubt could have been set in the past. I think that we all now treat people in the spirit of the legislation that has been introduced, and I think that the police will too. I commend the Bill and welcome the response of the police to it. I do not underestimate the responsibilities that chief officers of police have taken on for themselves.

7.10 pm
Mr. Mike O'Brien

With the leave of the House, I should say a few words in response to a couple of points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King), who asked about enforcement of the Bill. The Bill will empower the Commission for Racial Equality to issue a compliance notice to any public authority that fails to fulfil a specific duty imposed by order to promote race equality. If necessary, the CRE could seek a court order to enforce that provision. Audit bodies such as the Audit Commission would also be subject to the duty to promote race equality. They will be able to report on the issue, and that will help to underpin the duty.

I hope shortly to publish the results of research undertaken by Derby university on the extent of religious discrimination and the results of other research into legal issues, which may involve considering possible legislative options. I can take the matter no further than that now.

I join all colleagues in paying tribute to Doreen and Neville Lawrence. The death of Stephen Lawrence was a tragedy, but it has resulted in changes to the law. I hope that it will make this country a better place for us all, no matter what our race or background.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, with amendments.

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