HL Deb 27 November 1917 vol 27 cc3-17

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee, read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(The Earl of Crawford.)


My Lords, I hope that your Lordships will pardon me if I raise a few general questions with regard to this Bill which would be more appropriate, perhaps, at the stage of the Second Reading. I received this very important Bill, however, only on Wednesday morning. I was at work all day, and when the House sat in the afternoon to pass the Second Reading I really had not had time even to glance through it properly. It is very difficult for any one who is not young, and who, at the same time, is not an old Parliamentary hand, to keep pace with the breakneck speed at which legislation sometimes proceeds in your Lordships' House.

I welcome the foundation of an Air Force as a distinct arm of the Service—because that is the principle embodied in this Bill—and I only wish that this foundation could have been securely laid at an even earlier period. We all now understand the enormous importance of air force, and that importance has been demonstrated every day in every theatre of war. It is not too much to say that if the Allies at the present time possessed an absolute sufficiency of efficient air force, they could win the war without adding a man or a gun to other arms; and if the immense provisions which the Americans are now making can be brought to bear in France in the early spring I am quite certain that the end of the war will be then close at hand. This the Germans perfectly understand, and they are straining every effort, not merely to meet the danger which they foresee coming against them in the air, but to develop their night raids on London which they foolishly imagine will strike terror into the inhabitants and so hamper our prosecution of the war. If ever the inner history of our handling of air problems from the first comes to be written, I am afraid that it will be very melancholy reading. The noble Earl the Lord Privy Seal, in his speech on the Second Reading, admitted "waste not only in personnel and in material, but, what is much more serious, waste in effort and concentration." That is perfectly true. And much more than that could be said if any useful public purpose could be served by saying it. I trace the causes of some of the evils to which the noble Earl pointed, first of all to friction, not between the Services but between Departments of State, which is often, as we all know, too common; and, secondly, to our habit—almost a national habit—of paying little attention to the fundamental principles of sound administration.

The Air Board of 1916, which was presided over by the noble Earl the Leader of the House, had no executive powers and found itself strangled—as its predecessor had been—by the Admiralty, which even, as the noble Earl will well remember, used to deny us essential information. The third Air Board suffered from defects which the noble Earl has pointed out. It never had sufficient powers, and it was not able even to carry out some of the proposals which its predecessor had made. The noble Earl said that it was not a governing board; it was more like a committee or a conference, and consisted almost entirely of delegates from other Departments. In other words, it was not a properly organised body, because it violated some; of the essential principles of administration. I think that, considering the limitations and the disabilities from which the late Board suffered, it has done wonderful work in increasing the output of machines—work for which the country ought to be most grateful to the noble Viscount (Lord Cowdray) who has just retired. The main change which was introduced in December last was that all manufacture of air equipment was handed over to the Munitions Department. The noble Earl said that the Air Board provided the machines. That is a little misleading. The Air Board was responsible for the design of machines only, and I myself regard the divorce of design from manufacture as a mistake which will have to be remedied when the time of peace comes. The Board of 1916 was compelled to plead with the Ministry of Munitions for priority in the supply of a small amount of materials, and it actually had to wait weeks on some occasions in order to get an answer which proved to be quite unsatisfactory. Since then the Ministry of Munitions has evidently been awakened to the vital need of the Air Service, and the speed of manufacture seems to have been much increased. That is really a distinct national gain.

I turn now to the Bill, and I hope that your Lordships will not think that I wish to offer the smallest opposition to or criticism of the Bill. It is a remarkable measure in one sense, because except as regards certain provisions for discipline and for pensions it really leaves everything of first-class importance to be settled by Orders in Council in the future. I beg the Government to make certain quite vital matters a little more clear than they are at the present moment. The noble Earl spoke of the advantages of the amalgamation of training and control, and those advantages are undoubted; but the Bill really leaves that important matter to be dealt with by an Order in Council. The noble Viscount the late President of the Air Board said that in place of being, as now, administered by four Departments, the Air Force would in future be administered by one Department and supplied entirely by another Department. But that is only permissive in the Bill, as I read it; and it all depends upon a whole page of Orders in Council, which will have to be issued, I assume, in a very short time. I hope the noble Earl the Lord Privy Seal will forgive me if I ask him whether the whole responsibility for the design of all aircraft—aeroplanes, seaplanes, dirigibles and kite balloons—will rest with the Air Minister; whether all aeronautical inventions, all aeronautical experiments and research, and all the armaments of aircraft will be similarly dealt with in the future; and whether the whole training of the Air Force and the provision and control of all aerodromes and anti-aircraft defences, whether stationary or movable, will be brought under the control of the new Air Minister? In this Bill the duties of [the new Air Council are referred to in Clause 8, subsection (3). This subsection confers on the Air Council all the "powers, duties, rights, liabilities, and property" which the present Air Board possesses "under the New Ministries and Secretaries Act, 1916." which was a very vague piece of legislation, as your Lordships may remember. I do not know what "property" the old Board possesses, unless it is the Hotel Cecil, and its "powers" were manifestly inadequate and incomplete.

Turning to subsection (4) that subsection provides for the transfer of all such "property, rights, and liabilities"—but it says nothing about duties—from the Admiralty or Army Council to the Air Council "as may be agreed upon between the Air Council and the Admiralty or the Army Council as the case may be." The noble Earl the Leader of the House quoted that subsection and said that the words "as may be agreed" were "the secret and pivot of the whole matter," which is most true if duties are included; but as the subsection at present stands they are not included. The noble Earl will remember that only a rear ago nothing would induce the Admiralty to allow even the handling of aeronautical inventions, which was very far from being satisfactory, to be transferred to the Air Board, as was strongly urged at the time. If it is already agreed that all these powers are to be handed over to the Air Council, might not the Bill be made mandatory in that respect? If it is not agreed, then surely there may be a risk of differences arising in the future which may hamper the work of the New Ministry. I have known it to be very difficult to obtain an Order in Council if a powerful Department of State objected.

The Bill is quite specific in creating a Council, but it really says nothing whatever as to the kind of Council which is contemplated. Is the Council to be on the model of the Board of Admiralty, as it used to be or is now, or is it to be copied from the Army Council, or the India Council, which differs from the others? Is the Minister to be primus inter pares, or is he to be a Dictator with an expert technical staff under him? That is the plan which the Germans adopted early last year, and our Forces at the Front very soon learned what a difference arose when a very capable General, armed with complete powers, was in charge of the organisation and supply of the Air Force. For the period of the war I am not certain that this would not have been the best arrangement. The noble and learned Viscount (Lord Haldane) who presided over the reconstructed War Office and watched over the infancy of the General Staff established in 1904 by Mr. Balfour, expressed a natural anxiety as to the constitution of this Council, and I hope that the noble Earl will throw some light upon the points which I have ventured to raise.

The noble Viscount the late President of the Air Board said that all these matters had been considered by thirteen Committees. Thirteen is a very unlucky number, and I am afraid of this multiplicity of councillors. It would be more satisfactory if a single small body of men experienced in administration were called upon to frame a complete organisation which could have been laid on the Table of both Houses of Parliament. The success of the new Ministry, with its immense responsibility, will, I believe, depend entirely upon two matters—first, the orderly distribution of business in the Council itself and in its sub-branches; second, the selection of the administrative heads and of their immediate subordinates. We have had very plain warning that failure in either of these respects would be a serious matter. The Munitions Act gave huge powers to a Minister, but laid down nothing as to the kind of organisation to be set up. That Ministry has done work which is absolutely invaluable, but it has never been a properly organised body, and for this and certain other reasons, it has shown at times some quite serious defects. The Air Ministry will require a most capable General Staff, able to lay down the lines of an air policy, which has never been done up to the present time. It will also require a first-class Intelligence Department, and it must keep in the closest touch with the War Staff of the Admiralty and the General Staff of the War Office, as well as with the Air Forces afloat and on shore. It will also need the very best technical branch that can be provided, and the technical experts must not be placed under some one who does not understand their language, as so frequently happens, but they must be able to make their scientific views heard. There is one other point upon which the Bill seems to me to throw no light, and that is finance. Is the Air Council to have its own Votes, covering all its expenditure? At present I think all the cost of air equipment is borne on the Munitions Vote, but that is not a satisfactory arrangement. Departments which are not responsible for their own expenditure, or which expend on behalf of other Departments, are not likely to secure reasonable economy.

My Lords, we are creating a new Department very closely analogous to a great Department which was broken up immediately after the Crimean War. The old Board of Ordnance had a very long and honourable record, and was generally presided over by a soldier of great distinction. It not only supplied munitions and ordnance to the Army and the Navy but it also raised and administered the Artillery and Engineers, and I think it was the inconvenience arising from the different status of these two forces which caused the downfall of the Board itself. The sequel was this, that for a long time the supply of ordnance, which passed under the War Office, became almost chaotic, and this was eventually revealed by the startling Report of the Sir FitzJames Stephen's Commission. The Air Service differs and must always differ essentially from the Artillery and the Engineers, because its duties are discharged in space of three dimensions, and its training and equipment are special and altogether apart from the training and equipment of the other arms of the Service. Since it came into existence it has even developed a psychology of its own, and I believe it will never rise to the fulness of its accomplishment until it is directly commanded and administered by flying men themselves.

For these reasons, my Lords, I am convinced that the creation of a separate Air Service has become a necessity, and I only wish that this Bill had provided for the linking up of the Air Services of the Dominions in the future into one great Imperial Service. I hope your Lordships will pardon me, especially after what has fallen from the noble Earl, for detaining you so long; but I feel that this is a Bill of very great importance at this time of crisis in the war, and that it does merit serious consideration in your Lordships' House. I warmly support it, and I hope that the matters to which I have ventured to refer will be made a little more clear before we go into Committee.


My Lords, I am sure that the House is indebted to the noble Lord for criticisms which are based on much knowledge and experience of these intricate administrative matters, but I fear that I cannot give him precise answers to many of the questions he has put, for the reason which is palpable upon the face of the Bill—namely, the decision arrived at by the authorities that no cut-and-dried scheme should be placed on the Statute Book at this early stage in the history of the Air Force. I may however deal, though somewhat generally, with two or three of the criticisms he has made.

The complaint that vital matters are not set out more clearly in the text of the Bill I admit to have some ground. Training, for instance, is left to be settled and determined by subsequent Orders in Council; and the noble Lord mentioned other important features in the Air Service which were similarly treated. That is the case. It was decided that, so far from doing what the noble Lord desires, nothing settled to-day could be permanent; that the Air Force, stall in the early stages of its career, should not be tied down by Statute to something which in practice might prove inconvenient, and which ex hypothesi could not be remedied without coming to Parliament for amending Acts. Revision will be necessary. At least it will be admitted that Orders in Council provide a certain amount of elasticity, and that is the ground upon which this Bill presents an outline rather than a completed canvas. Beyond that I am afraid I can say nothing to meet the criticisms of the noble Lord. He wishes everything to be clearly specified and defined at the outset. The promoters of the Bill felt, on the other hand, that however necessary or however desirable it may be later on to define matters with the precision which applies to the Act creating the Army Council, for instance, the present moment is not opportune for such a purpose in connection with the Air Force.

There are two or three questions which the noble Lord asked about the actual Bill. As regards the powers of the Air Council the vis-û-vis the Air Board, I understand the broad idea is that the Air Council will have powers with regard to the Air Service corresponding to those of the Army Council with regard to land military service, and of the Admiralty with regard to naval service. The Secretary of State in charge of the Air Force will correspond in rank, in responsibility, and in status to the First Lord of the Admiralty and the Secretary of State for War. He will be head of the Council, and it is contemplated—though here, again, it is not laid down in the Bill that the individual members of the Air Council will be allotted specialised functions as is the case both on the Board of Admiralty and on the Army Council.

As regards the design of machines, the responsibility for all designs will rest with the Air Minister. The responsibility for ensuring that the execution of the design is correct and adequately encompassed is with the Air Minister; but the actual work, for very good reasons, will continue to be carried out and supervised by the Minister of Munitions. Aerodromes will be transferred to the Air Council, and the subsection to which the noble Lord re- ferred —subsection (4) of Clause 8—says that His Majesty may by Order in Council transfer from the Admiralty or from the Army Council to the Air Council such property, rights, and liabilities, etc. It is quite true the clause is permissive, but that is the normal form adopted when the responsibilities of one Department are transferred to another. The special object of subsection (4) is to make it clear that not only aerodromes actually finished, but contracts and liabilities of the War Office and of the Admiralty shall, in course of time, be placed within the competence and control of the Air Minister.

The only other special point that was asked was about finance. Will finance be independent? That is the intention—that the Air Force will have its own finance and its own Estimates just as the Army or the Navy has. But there, again, I would add this word of caution. The Munitions Department, will continue to be the manufacturing branch of the Air Service, and as such the Munitions Department will carry some of the expenditure incurred on behalf of the Air Service. That is desirable for administrative reasons. It is also desirable, for technical reasons, that the Department of Munitions, which controls every branch of production, should continue to act as the agent for these other Services. In the course of time, however, I doubt not that the Air Service, so far as finance is concerned, will occupy exactly the same position as the Army or the Navy does to-day.


My Lords, I do not rise to ask any further questions or to delay the House for more than a moment. This is a very important Bill, and I am a strong supporter of it. But I think my noble friend Lord Sydenham was quite Tight in drawing attention to the peculiar circumstances in which the Bill comes forward. I think they are necessitated by the exigencies of the war. When the structure of the Army Council was framed it took place in the twilight, after the heat and burden of the day had been borne, and after examination by the Esher Committee, on which my noble friend played a great part. In this case we legislate at the commencement of the day and before the work has been done; therefore it is a little obscure what the functions will be of the various members of the Air Council to be constituted under Clause 8. I think the explanation of the noble Earl was satisfactory as regards the Munitions Department. It is certain that during this war the Munitions Department will have to do a great deal of the work of providing. But what is vital is the nature of the Air Council, and it may be when we come to Clause 8 the noble Earl will be able to give us a little more information as to whether its function is to resemble that of the Army Council or that of the Admiralty, which is different from that of the Army Council inasmuch as the First Sea Lord until recently has taken an active part in administration, whereas the Chief of the General Staff of the Army is prevented from doing so.

Another vital provision in this Bill to which much attention has not been drawn is subsection (2) of Clause 12, which indicates that the Air Force is "to continue in force only as long as the Army Act continues in force, and during the present war the number of the Forces mentioned in the preamble to the Army (Annual) Act shall include the number of the Air Force." According to the constitution of this country it is not legal to keep up a standing Army. Every year Parliament intervenes and continues the Army Act, which has no force except so far as it is kept alive by a small Army (Annual) Act which is passed every year, and I am glad to see that the constitutional principle is to be preserved with the Air Force Act. It has its inconveniences, but it also has its advantages, because it enables Parliament every year to review the constitution of the Force which has been called into existence. We shall have every year an opportunity of passing a brief Act of some kind which will keep the Air Force alive and will keep the Army Act, so far as it has become an Air Force Act, alive also. That is how I read Clause 12, subsection (2); and it may be some satisfaction to your Lordships to realise that not only is the constitution observed, but that there will be an opportunity of rediscussing the questions which my noble friend has raised according as experience shows amendments to be necessary.


My Lords, before the House goes into Committee I hope it will allow me to call attention to a matter of quite a different kind. Nothing I have to say will delay for one moment the main object of the Bill, which is the creation of an Air Ministry. I wish to call attention to Clause 12 on a question affecting the principles of legislation. It seems to me that Clause 12 as it stands is nothing less than the abomination of legislation standing where it ought not, and I earnestly hope that the Government will think further of this clause before they finally pass the Bill. I have not ventured to put down any Amendment to it, although I think it would be quite easy to do so. The main thing would be to strike out the words "as a separate Act." I do not see how you can make one Act of Parliament within another, and give the Royal Assent. The difficulties, it seems to me, are insuperable, and I hope the Bill will not be passed into law without some consideration of this clause. I quite see that the very minute and difficult Schedule must be taken on faith. No one could examine it, although it has been the practice of your Lordships' House in legislation of this kind to take the greatest care by sending it to a Committee and to pass it only after examination and certificate that the items are correct, and that there is no amendment of the law in substance in the Bill. Nothing of that sort will happen in this case, and if it were not for the provision to which the noble Viscount (Lord Haldane) has alluded, by which it becomes an annual Act, it would really be a great calamity. With reference to what the noble Earl said with regard to elasticity, the Bill has exactly the contrary effect. It would be a most useful thing to publish an edition of the Army Act in some form showing the view taken of the alterations that might be made.

There are two other smaller matters to which I should like to call your Lordships' attention. One has been referred to already; it is the great powers which I understand are going to be exercised of altering the Statute by Order in Council. Protests against that have been raised very often in this House, and it seems to me that this is a very strong instance of that vicious form of legislation. Finally your Lordships will observe that there is not the smallest indication in the title of the Bill what this Act within an Act is going to create. The only words are those which in recent times have had a sort of "Rake's Progress "—namely, the words "for purposes connected therewith," then putting anything you like into the Statute. This is a very strong instance of that, and I suggest that in the interests of good form of legislation some words should be put into the title of the Bill which will indicate what the Bill actually does.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The EARL of KINTORE in the Chair.]

Clauses 1 to 7 agreed to.

Clause 8:

Establishment of Air Council.

8.—(1) For the purpose of the administration of matters relating to the Air Force and to the defence of the realm by air there shall be established an Air Council consisting of one of His Majesty's Principal Secretaries of State who shall be President of the Air Council and of other members who shall be appointed in such manner and subject to such provisions as His Majesty may by Order in Council direct.

(2) His Majesty may by Order in Council fix the date as on which the Air Council is to be established, and make provision with respect to the proceedings of the Air Council and the manner in which the business of the Council is to be distributed among the members thereof.

(3) On the establishment of the Air Council the Air Board constituted under the New Ministries and Secretaries Act, 1916, shall cease to exist, and all the powers, duties, rights, liabilities, and property of that Board shall be transferred to the Air Council, but nothing in this subsection shall affect any orders, instructions, or other instruments issued by the Air Board, and all such instruments shall have effect as if issued by the Air Council.

(4) His Majesty may by Order in Council transfer from the Admiralty, or from the Army Council or the Secretary of State for the War Department, to the Air Council or the President of the Air Council such property, rights, and liabilities of the Admiralty or Army Council or Secretary of State as may be agreed between the Air Council and the Admiralty or the Army Council, as the case may be.


My Lords, shall I be in order, as I have not given notice, in moving to insert the word "duties" in subsection (4), after the word "rights" ["such properties, rights, and liabilities"]? The clause will then run, "His Majesty may by Order in Council transfer…to the Air Council or the President of the Air Council such property, rights, duties, and liabilities of the Admiralty," etc. I would like to move that Amendment if it is in order, because really the duties in this case are more important than the property.


I think there is a good deal in what my noble friend has said about this. I will take a concrete case, and perhaps the noble Earl will consider it for the Report stage. We will say that there may be duties on the part of the Board of Admiralty or the Army Council which, if carried out, would interfere with the new duties created for the Air Council, and it is at least right that by Order in Council the power to transfer the duties should be given; otherwise there may be a conflict. I cannot think why the word "duties" was omitted.


I should like to point out that subsection (4) is the provision transferring what I will call business liabilities—the aerodrome, the land that is bought for the aerodrome, the contract that has been entered into by the Navy or the Army for building an aerodrome. It has nothing to do with duties and the Air Council as such. If you put "duties" in a money clause, it would give a money connotation to the word "duty." I think the noble Lord will be satisfied if he refers to line 3 of the previous subsection, which says that on the establishment of the Air Council the Air Board shall cease to exist, and all its powers, duties, rights, and liabilities shall be transferred to the Air Council. That shows that the transfer of all existing duties is contemplated, and under subsection (3) can be enacted.


But that is only the transfer of duties which the present Air Board hold. There will be some very large duties transferred from the Admiralty and the War Office to the new Air Council. I do not see, therefore, that there can be any objection to inserting the word "duties" here, especially as the word occurs nowhere else than in subsection (3) where it refers only to duties transferred from the present Air Board to the new Council.


The noble Earl referred to subsection (3) and rather intimated that under that subsection the duties could be, or have been, transferred. Does the noble Earl think that they have been transferred? All that my noble friend asks is that there should be power to transfer the duties.


To begin with, I do not know what the duties are.


The duties are the obligations.


The duties in the Act of 1916, transferred in subsection (3), are clearly defined. But if you insert the word "duties" in subsection (4), which is a money and contract provision, it surely will be very difficult to know what the duties will be. The whole basis of the Bill is that the War Office and the Admiralty transfer to this new Department obligations which those two fighting Services have hitherto held. The Admiralty and the War Office have accepted the Bill, and I presume that those two Departments will make arrangements by which the responsibilities are going to be transferred. But I confess that I am very reluctant to insert into a money liability clause an undefined word about high policy.


May not the other subsection also be defined as a money clause? It deals with property and liabilities, and duties come in there. But in the other subsection, which the noble Earl says deals with money matters, the word "duties" is left out.

Clause 8 agreed to.

Clauses 9, 10, and 11 agreed to.

Clause 12:

Application of Army Act to Air Force.

12.—(1) The Army Art as in force immediately before the passing of this Act shall, subject to the modifications set out in the Second Schedule to this Act (being amendments required to adapt that Act to the circumstances of the Air Force) apply with respect to the Air Force, and shall, as so modified, take effect as a separate Act of the present session of Parliament, and may be printed as a separate Act by the printers to His Majesty and intituled "An Act to provide for the Discipline and Regulation of the Air Force," and that Act may, subject to any modifications which may from time to time be made therein, be cited as the Air Force Act:

Provided that for the purposes of section eighty-eight of the Air Force Act (relating to the continuance of men in air-force service in case of emergency) the proclamation issued under section eighty-eight of the Army Act on the outbreak of the present war shall have effect as if it had been issued under the first-mentioned, as well as the last-mentioned, section, and had applied to the Air Force as well as to the Army.

(2) The Air Force Act shall continue in force only as long as the Army Act continues in force, and during the present war the number of the forces mentioned in the preamble to the Army (Annual) Act shall include the number of the Air Force.

(3) Where by any enactment passed after the passing of this Act any amendments are made in the Army Act the corresponding amendments shall be made in the Air Force Act, subject to such modifications and exceptions as His Majesty in Council may declare to be necessary for adapting the same to the Air Force.

(4) Where by any enactment passed after the passing of this Act and for the time being in force any enactments or words are directed to be substituted in the Army Act or the Air Force Act for any other enactments or words, or to be added to or omitted from the Army Act or the Air Force Act, then all copies of the Air Force Act printed after such direction takes effect shall be printed with the said enactments or words added to the said Act or omitted therefrom, or inserted therein in lieu of any enactments or words for which the same are to be substituted, according as such direction requires, and with the sections and subsections numbered in accordance with such direction, but, as respects amendments to the Army Act, subject to such modifications and exceptions as aforesaid, and the Air Force Act shall be construed as if it had at the time at which such direction takes effect been enacted with such addition, omission, or substitution.

(5) A reference in any enactment passed after the passing of this Act to the Air Force Act shall, unless the context otherwise requires, be construed to refer to the Air Force Act as amended by any enactment for the time being in force.


It is no doubt true that this clause is drawn in a rather novel form, but I think I can give some comfort to my noble friend Lord Muir Mackenzie. Clause 12 really does what has already been done on previous occasions, although I think not perhaps in so bold a form. Long ago the Army—and I believe the Navy followed their example—got Acts passed which enabled them to take the amendments that were made each year in the Army (Annual) Bill, incorporate them in the standing Army Act, and then enact that the Army Act was to be re-enacted. No doubt under the title of Army Act it changed, notwithstanding that no Royal Assent had been given to its new form and that Parliament had not considered it. That was done by an Act of 48 Victoria, Chapter 8, which my noble friend will find if he looks at it; and whatever objections may be taken to the practice, I do not think that this case is really any worse. All that happens is that the standing Act which will regulate the Air Service will be operative if, and only if, an Air Service Act is passed every year, and in that Air Service Act it will be possible to make amendments from time to time. That Air Service Act has to operate on something, and there can be transferred into an Air Act the something which will be the corpus vile on which it will not only operate but which will have no life of any sort apart from it. Therefore it does seem to me that all that this in substance does is to state by a large draft Bill the powers by which the annual Air Act, or whatever takes the place of that annual Air Act, will annually give this Force life for another year. That is provided for by Clause 2; and all that Clause 12 does is to repeat the procedure which the War Office, and I think also the Admiralty, have pursued with the assent of Parliament for many years past.


With great deference, I cannot agree with my noble and learned friend in thinking that this is the same thing as that to which he has referred, the well-established practice of the Army Act.

Clause 12 agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

First Schedule.

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