HL Deb 07 June 1921 vol 45 cc432-47

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

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Lambourne.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The EARL OF DONOUGHMORE in the Chair.]

Clause 1:


1. Every person who shall promote, arrange, conduct, assist in, receive money for, or take part in, any meeting, competition, exhibition, pastime, practice, display, or in any event whatever, at or in the course of which captive birds are liberated by hand or by trap, contrivance, or other means for the purpose of being shot at the time of their liberation, or who, being the owner or occupier or person in charge of any premises, shall permit his premises or property, or any part thereof, to be used for any such purpose, shall be liable upon summary conviction to a fine not exceeding twenty-five pounds, or alternatively or in addition thereto to be imprisoned with or without hard labour for a term not exceeding three months.

THE EARL OF LANESBOROUGH had given Notice to move to leave out "birds" and insert "tame pigeons," and to leave out "by hand or." The noble Earl said: This is the first time I have had the honour of addressing your Lordships, and I hope you will forgive any mistakes I may make. I feel so strongly about the way this Bill has been introduced and rushed through that I must raise my protest. It was brought in as the result of a lightning Press "stunt" of a fortnight, and introduced into the House of Commons at a critical moment in the coal crisis when that Assembly was very heavily worked, and when members were so occupied with that matter that they did not have time to think about small Bills like this. I think it was always brought in late in the evening, and the Third Reading came on at 10.50, after a very heavy day's work, when most of the members had left the House, and several of those who wished to speak on the subject did not get a chance. That is very hard.

The Bill originated from a letter written by a certain gentleman at Monte Carlo, complaining about pigeon shooting there and alleging all sorts of cruelties. This aroused a great protest amongst the French, by whom Monte Carlo is run. They said they did not see why an Englishman should interfere with their business. One of the British members of the Sporting Club interviewed this gentleman, who acknowledged that he had never been to a pigeon ground or seen a pigeon match in his life, but only knew what he had been told. People who have got a bee in their bonnet on any subject do not take the trouble to ascertain the facts. When it was explained to him how the sport was run, he said: "Is it like that? I had no idea of it." He then promised to write another letter correcting his previous one. The second letter was never written, but several people, who probably knew just as much about the matter as he did, wrote to the papers, and the question was taken up by a certain section of the Press. All the letters opposing pigeon shooting were printed, but none of the letters supporting it. These gentlemen declared that public opinion as a whole condemned pigeon shooting. I maintain that few members of the public know anything whatever about. it.

When this Bill came up for Second Reading here and was put back on account of the Amendment I ventured to suggest it was the first intimation that many people had that the Bill lied reached this stage. The consequence was that a large number of telegrams and letters immediately began to come in from all parts of England, begging your Lordships to do your best to secure the rejection of the Bill. I have handed in to-day a Petition signed by over 13,000 shooting people from north, south, east and west of the country, and letters are still arriving urging your Lordships to reject the Bill. These facts show the state of public feeling, and I would remind your Lordships that all this has happened in a week. I cannot think how many communications would have been received if the period had been a longer one. This is a Press "stunt," and I do not see why our actions should be legislated for by a certain section of the Press. They seem to think nowadays that they can say exactly what we may and may not do. With all this grandmotherly legislation we shall very soon be unable to do anything at all. As it is, they interfere with everybody.

The original Bill applied only to shooting tame pigeons from a trap, which is no sport whatever. Nobody cares about it. But I maintain that shooting wild blue rock, which fly extremely fast and are very difficult to hit, or even starlings and sparrows, is an entirely different matter. It requires very great skill and quickness of hand and eye. It is a pastime in which the professional is no use whatever, because a man who has reached a certain degree of skill is put back in his handicap and is made level with everybody else. It gives amusement to a great number of people of all classes, from the working man and farmer upwards, throughout the whole of England. It is done in every other country in the world, and I do not see why this should be the only country where it is not to be allowed. Starling and sparrow shooting is entirely a poor man's sport. The poor man likes his Saturday afternoon shoot just as much as richer men enjoy their own sport. It leads to a certain amount of competition, and I maintain that competition and. the sporting instinct of Englishmen have placed them well in front of everybody else, with the result that in all parts of the world they are generally found to be the leaders.

The sport also leads to competition amongst other people, such as gun-makers, powder-makers, cartridge-makers, and others who manufacture sporting accessories. It is purely owing to trap-shooting that the sporting gun of the present day is as good as it is, and it is well known that the English sporting gun is the best in the world. Foreigners always buy one if they possibly can. Even in America, where they make very good guns themselves, they buy English ones for preference. The trap shooter insists upon having the very best article. He wants to get his bird clean and does not want any stragglers, with the result that he will have his gun from the gun-maker who tries to get the best possible bore, and his powder from powder-makers whose powder hits the hardest, and so on. I think that all this tends to show that pigeon shooting has a useful effect throughout the country.

Supporters of this Bill talk about cruelty. If you take that argument, all shooting is cruel in a certain way, but I maintain that this is the most humane form of shooting there is. It is carried on under very strict rules, and every bird that is shot is gathered, if it falls within the boundary or just outside it, before the next bird is allowed to be released, and if any bird gets away, there are always men outside to collect it. These birds are shot for food, and pigeons, starlings and sparrows are sold to the people at a nominal sum after a shooting match. The demand is always very much greater than the supply. No bird suffers unnecessarily. No man who calls himself a sportsman wishes a dumb animal to suffer. Therefore, as I have said, the rules are very strict, and everything is done to secure that the birds are killed quickly and cleanly. After your Lordships threw out a Bill similar to this several years ago, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals took the matter up. They have sent representatives down to clubs all over the country, but so far as I know they have never yet found a case upon which they could base a prosecution.

The noble Lord, Lord Lambourne, stated in a speech at the Central Hall, Westminster, the other day that he was grateful to the Daily Mail and The Times for the great help they had given him in the campaign against pigeon shooting, with the result that live pigeon shooting at Monte Carlo had been stopped and only clay birds were to be used in future. After reading this speech I took the trouble to get into communication with the people at Monte Carlo. Their answer was that they had no intention whatever of stopping live pigeon shooting and that the only alteration they might make was to change the situation of the shooting ground. I am afraid the noble Lord was not quite certain of his facts.

A great many working men and farmers like to shoot. It is about the only form of sport that they get; they cannot afford other shooting. They like their Saturday afternoon shoot, and, so far as I can see, it is perfectly harmless. Moreover, the doing away with the shooting effected by the Bill means unemployment for a great number of people. There are the men who catch the birds, the men who look after the ground, the trappers, and the little clubs formed all over England, which, until this Bill was brought in, I had no idea existed in such numbers. This shooting is allowed everywhere else. If it is stopped here all these people would lose, and I think it is a very hard case. Starlings and sparrows are pests. They are just like vermin. They are increasing in great numbers, and they do an enormous amount of damage to cereals and fruit trees. I cannot see that there is any harm in shooting them. Over a million starlings and over half a million sparrows were shot in England last year in these clubs. At one club alone, close to London, in a county famous for its fruit trees, 12,000 starlings were shot. These birds are paid for at the rate of 4s. per dozen.

No farmer would pay that amount, or buy cartridges to shoot them. They would, therefore, not be destroyed at all, and, having regard to the enormous rate at which they increase, the country would soon be overrun by them. Of course, during the war these shootings did not take place, but they have now begun again, and as I have already said, a certain number of people are paid regularly to catch these birds. Therefore, if the shootings were stopped the loss would be very great. I also wish to point out that the original Bill applied only to tame pigeon shooting. It has been altered into wild bird shooting. That is only the thin end of the wedge for all sorts of shooting. Some crank who does not like shooting at all will soon get up and propose to extend the measure still further. Your Lordships should be very careful before you pass a Bill like this, if you want sport of any kind to be continued, or we shall end up like a race of grandmothers. If it is too late to reject this Bill altogether, I ask you to give some thought to the sporting working man, and to consider favourably the Amendment which I have placed on the Paper, and which I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 1, line 10, leave out ("birds") and insert ("tame pigeons").—(The Earl of Lanesborough.)


Before the noble Lord in charge of the Bill answers, I should like to ask him to explain a point which is somewhat mysterious to me. In the course of the debate on the Second Reading I alluded to a practice which used to be fairly common, of taking so-called wild ducks, placing them in hampers or apparatus of some kind, and then liberating them and shooting at them, this being a practice frequently followed by so-called legitimate sportsmen, and probably frequently indulged in by Lord Lambourne himself. I am not sure that I have not helped to contribute towards his enjoyment of this particular kind of sport; but I assumed in the course of my speech that this practice would come to an end under the Bill. To my unbounded astonishment my noble friend interrupted me, and said, "No, it will not." The only comment which I desire to make upon this astonishing statement is that if the practice of shooting so-called wild ducks is going to be allowed to continue, this Bill is an even greater piece of hypocrisy than I credited it with being. I think it is imperative that we should have a definite explanation upon this point before we proceed further, because it is obvious to me that if you are going to except so-called wild ducks it is only fair that starlings and sparrows should be in the same category.


I will leave the noble Lord, Lord Newton, to compose his strife with Lord Lambourne when that noble Lord replies but for the moment I should like to point out to him that, so far as this Bill is concerned, the question whether or not a wild duck is within its provisions depends entirely upon whether it is "liberated by hand or by trap, contrivance, or other means for the purpose of being shot at the time of liberation." If it be, then the practice will be stopped. If it be not, then the practice will continue, and I do not propose to offer any opinion whatever as to whether or not the practice is a wise or desirable one.

But I should like to say a word or two in regard to what Lord Lanesborough has said in support of his Amendment. He has suggested that this Bill is a bad Bill throughout, because it is interfering with the poor man's sport. Let me say at once that to my mind the whole of this practice is nothing but a degradation of sport of the worst description, and throws a very unjust and very undesirable reflection upon the legitimate sports in which so many people rejoice to indulge The fact, as the noble Earl has told us, that there arc all over this kingdom numbers of sparrow clubs, the object of which, apparently, is to entrap wild sparrows, and then put them in a cage or a trap, and let them out for the purpose of being shot or wounded, as the case may he, for a monetary competition on Saturday afternoons, is a horrible thing. Different minds see things in a different way, but to me it seems an abomination. There is very little element of the skill required in connection with ordinary sport—knowing where to find your bird, walking it up, and the expectation and pleasure that come from pursuit.

Here are people who are to gather at meetings on Saturday afternoon, and shoot for the purpose of competition. Can anything be more hateful and alien to the whole spirit of sport than that you should go out with your friends to see who can kill most in an afternoon? That is the practice of these clubs, arid that it should be associated with cruelty in the collection of the birds, in the caging of the birds, and in the destruction of the birds, seems to me undoubted. The more your Lordships value sport in its reality the more anxious I think you will be to put down what is nothing but a travesty of sport, and a disgrace to the name of sport.


May I say this in reply to the remarks of Lord Newton, that I can honestly state that the only time I have shot wild ducks in a peculiar position was at his place? Certainly I am not encouraged, after what I have heard, to continue the practice. As regards this Amendment moved by Lord Lanes-borough, I am rather at sea. I have not much experience in your Lordships' House, but really the whole of his remarks belonged to a Second Reading speech. I wish to try to keep in order as much as I can, and I will not attempt to answer all the questions which he raised, because they were debated in answer to a speech by Lord Newton on the Second Reading. On that occasion nobody moved the rejection of the Bill, though ample notice of the measure was given. The noble Earl who, I am quite sure, reads his Order Paper with extraordinary regularity every morning, must have seen the Notice given of the fact that this Bill was to be brought forward. He did not come down. I do not blame him. Why should he, if he did not want to do so? But there was no opposition at all, and the Bill passed its Second Reading. I then put it down as soon as I could, and in compliance with his wishes, and in compliance with what I understand is the custom in your Lordships' House, I postponed the Bill for some time at considerable inconvenience.

I should like, however, to answer the noble Earl's remarks about the House of Commons. I do know something with regard to the procedure there. He says that the House of Commons passed the Bill in a panic during the coal strike; that Members were busy; that they had gone away, and that they were tired and exhausted. What are the real facts of the case? The Bill was introduced on April 8, after 11 o'clock, as a private Bill must be, excepting in certain circumstances. Ample Notice is given, and a long list published of all the Bills that are going to be introduced. And a Member has not got to make a speech. You do not require any eloquence in order to stop a Bill at that stage; all you have to do is to get up, and say, "I object," and the Bill is dropped for that day. Nobody even did that.

The Bill was read a second time on April 12. Again these injured thousands, these people who are deprived of their living, and the widow and the orphan, were not represented. Not one Member of the House of Commons objected, though all knew the Bill was coming on. Surely, if they were so interested in the protection of English sport they would have come down in their hundreds and have objected. The Bill was passed, and went into Committee. The Committee sat, and anybody who knows anything of private Bill procedure in the House of Commons knows how difficult it is to get any Bill through. The Bill was reported to the House on April 26, and it passed the Third Reading on May 3. Therefore, nobody can say that every opportunity was not offered to the opponents of the Bill to state their case and to obtain a hearing in the House of Commons, in which there is an enormous number of sporting men and shooting men. These numerous Petitions that have overpowered the noble Earl might have been directed towards Members of the House of Commons, who are more amenable to the influence of their constituents than we are in this House, but nobody objected at all. Then the Bill came here and obtained its First Reading on May 4, and I got the Second Reading on May 10. The noble Earl's suggestion that there was any secrecy or any hurry over the Bill in the House of Commons must fall to the ground in view of these dates.

The noble Earl said he had an Amendment but he never told me what was the object of the Amendment. I was left to guess at what he meant. But, whatever it was, I should have resisted it, because I am quite sure it is a wrecking Amendment, and would really do away with the Bill. I therefore urge upon the Committee to reject this Amendment. I have consulted those who are interested in the matter in the House of Commons, and they have advised me to oppose this Amendment by all means in my power. The noble Earl says I was misled, and that I made a public statement. I was misled. It was stated in the papers that live pigeons were not to be shot at Monte Carlo. If I was mistaken I am very sorry for it. But that does not afford any reason why in England we should practise a sport which is really no sport at all, and commit cruelty because foreign nations do.


On behalf of the Government I should like to say I agree entirely with what Lord Lambourne says, that the Amendment is one of a wrecking nature. The object of the Bill is to prevent what is held to be a. cruel practice. The noble Lord, in his speech advocating this Amendment—the first speech he has made in this House, upon which, I am sure, your Lordships will congratulate him—explained that in his view the practice was not a cruel one. The Bill, however, has passed through the House of Commons in the form in which it reached your Lordships' House, and it has also been read a second time here. Therefore, I venture to say that the practice is held by Parliament and the country to be a cruel one. It is surely equally cruel to shoot any bird released by the various methods that the Bill describes as to shoot a tame pigeon released from a trap. I hope that your Lordships will not agree to the Amendment.


At the risk of being considered importunate I confess I should like to have an answer to my question. So far none has been given. The noble Lord who introduced the Bill has given one version of it, and the noble and learned Lord opposite has given another. I must repeat that if under this Bill, so-called legitimate sportsmen are allowed to liberate wild ducks and shoot them—an offence which, I should like to say, I myself have not committed—this Bill is an instance of gross hypocrisy. If you allow so-called legitimate sportsmen to liberate so-called wild ducks it stands to reason that the vulgar sportsman ought to be allowed to do the same thing in his own way.


Surely if you rear a lot of ducks, put them into a cupboard, let them out and they fly away over your head, it is the same thing as putting pigeons into traps, and, according to the Bill, it must, therefore, surely be illegal.

On Question, Amendment negatived.

THE EARL OF LANESBOROUGH moved, after the word liberated," to delete the words by hand or." The noble Earl said: I beg to move the next Amendment which stands in my name.

Amendment moved— Page 1, line 10, leave out ("by hand or").—(The Earl of Lanesborough.)


The noble Earl has not explained the purpose of his Amendment, which is an attempt to evade the provisions of the Bill as passed by the House of Commons. I cannot see the object of the Amendment, and I cannot accept it.


If those words were omitted the birds let loose would not be released from a trap; they would be thrown out. The omission of those words does away with the enclosing of them in traps.


I cannot accept the Amendment.

On Question, Amendment negatived.

THE EARL OF LANESBOROUGH moved, after the word "trap," to delete the words" contrivance, or other means." The noble Earl said: I desire to move the third Amendment which stands in my name.

Amendment moved— Page 1, lines 10 and 11, leave out (" contrivance or other means ").—(The Earl of Lanesborough.)


This is another attempt to evade the provisions of the Bill. The birds might be turned out of a flowerpot or a basket. I cannot accept the Amendment.

On Question, Amendment negatived.

THE EARL OF LANESBOROUGH moved to substitute "ten pounds" for "twenty-five pounds." The noble Earl said: I placed this Amendment on the Paper because I think that the penalty in the Bill is excessive. This sort of shooting, as I have said, is indulged in mainly by members of the working classes and farmers, and it seems to me that to be fined £25 for shooting a sparrow out of a trap or a flower-pot is a hardship. Supposing you wanted to teach a boy to shoot and you let a sparrow out of a flower-pot in your garden, and some busybody was looking over the wall, you would be liable to this fine of £25. That is excessive, and I hope your Lordships will accept the Amendment.

Amendment moved— Page 1, line 16, leave out (" twenty-five ") and insert (" ten ").—(The Earl of Lanesborough.)


In regard to these penalties, the Bill has been very carefully drafted and the penalties are taken from the Protection of Animals Act, 1911. There is no likelihood that the sort of thing suggested by the noble Earl will happen. In the instance given by the noble Earl the fine could be fourpence or sixpence. The £25 is the maximum, and not the standard, penalty.


I look upon this Amendment as an important one. I intend to support it, and I hope the noble Earl will go to a Division upon it. I do not know whether the attention of the noble Lord has been called to a letter appearing in The Times to-day in support of this Bill. It is written, I think, by the gentleman who was responsible for the passage of the Bill through the House of Commons. I observe, and anybody else must have been struck by the same thing, that in this letter the charge of cruelty is abandoned altogether; so that really the main excuse for this Bill has completely gone. Pigeon shooting or trapped bird shooting, if you prefer to call it by another name, is to be stopped because, in the opinion of this gentleman and his friends and I suppose of my noble friend, Lord Lambourne, it is a kind of spurious sport which leads to national demoralisation. In the words of this letter "the practice of pigeon shooting tarnishes the fair name of British sport." If that is so, the sports of many other nations must be equally tarnished, because, if I am not mistaken, pigeon shooting flourishes in every town on the Continent and in America as well.

It is also said that it must be brought to an end because it is degrading to all who take part in it. As I pointed out on the last occasion, probably every person in this House, with one or two exceptions, has taken part in pigeon shoots, and what instance is there of a noble Lord having been degraded in consequence? We know that no less a person than the most rev. Primate indulged in this spurious sport in his youth. What signs are there of demoralisation in his case? I do not suppose anybody has shot more tame pigeons than has my noble friend who is responsible for this Bill. It is urged that this practice of shooting trapped birds leads to demoralising practices. One of the reasons urged against it is that it leads to betting. Very likely it does, but are there not other things which lead to betting? What about racing? Does not racing lead to betting? Take a more common form of amusement—the game of billiards. It would be very easy to show that billiards is very demoralising. It. deprives people of their health sometimes; it encourages them to drink, and it certainly encourages them to bet. One might enlarge indefinitely upon this theme. Personally I cannot see what Parliament has to do with the ethics of sport. I should have thought Parliament had plenty to do without passing legislation to distinguish between the sheep and the goats of sport and laying down what sport, is illegitimate and what is legitimate.

It really comes to this: that we are asked to pass this Bill because it is, so to speak, bad form to shoot birds out of traps or other contrivances. To my mind we might legislate with equal propriety upon many other things—upon questions of taste and fashion, or anything of the kind. We might legislate against people who outrage our tastes by wearing fancy waistcoats, or people who put their knives in their mouths, or we might lay down laws as to who shall he admitted to the enclosure at Ascot. This is not the function of Parliament. When the element of cruelty disappears and is abandoned there is very little left in this Bill. It amounts to this—that if a boy or man puts a sparrow under a flower pot, and then shoots at it, and someone looks on, he may actually be subject to a penalty of £25, and be sent to prison for three months in addition. I am under the impression that you could knock a human being about until you half killed him, and yet the penalty would not be much more than one-tenth of that which you propose to inflict in this case. In my opinion the penalties under this Bill show an extraordinary want of the sense of proportion on the part of the persons who are responsible for legislation of this kind. I hope the noble. Earl opposite will make a firm stand on tins point, and if he goes to a Division I shall have no hesitation in supporting him.


I agree to some extent with what Lord Newton said about demoralisation. I do not know that much demoralisation is involved in pigeon shooting, nor do I know that it is a matter for the intervention on that ground of anyone, whether the House of Commons or anyone else. But surely the question before the House at present is whether the House favours the shooting of birds from traps as a test of dexterity. No one alleges that it is sport, and I think there is a general sense all over England just now—and I daresay in other parts of the world also—that we have come to a more clement time in which we do not want to capture birds, put them under traps, and then liberate them to be shot at merely as a test of human dexterity. So far as I am concerned, if there is a Division, I shall certainly vote with Lord Lambourne.


After what has fallen from Lord Newton and Lord Ribblesdale, perhaps I may be permitted to express the view of the Home Office on this matter. The question is really one of enforcing a law. If this Bill becomes law, what penalty is necessary in order to enforce the law? The penalty of £25 and the option of imprisonment is the same, as was pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Lambourne, as is provided for in the Protection of Animals Act, 1911, and in the Protection of Animals (Amendment) Act. I would like to point out that the penalty mentioned is only the maximum penalty. Smaller penalties can, of course, be imposed by Justices if they think the maximum penalty is unnecessary. But in such cases as those where a man continues to hold these shooting competitions, and to make money out of them, after he has been convicted, it is right that the Court should have the power to impose either a substantial fine, such as that which is here provided, or, if a substantial fine has no

effect, imprisonment. If there is not this power of imposing imprisonment cases may occur in which a man is making large profits, and may think it worth while to continue breaking the law, and be fined rather than abandon the competitions. I hope your Lordships will adhere to the policy laid down in former Acts on this subject, and leave the clause as it stands.


In view of the remarkable statement made by the noble Lord opposite that no single instance of cruelty has been vouched for by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, may I, before we go to a Division, ask the noble Lord, Lord Lambourne, whether this is a Bill for the purification of sport, or whether it is a Bill to stop cruelty?


It is a Bill for the purification of sport, and also for the prevention of cruelty. My Society have had numerous cases of cruelty. Some prosecutions have been successful in the past, and some have not.

On Question, whether the words proposed to be left out stand part of the clause?—

Their Lordships divided:—Contents, 69; Not-Contents, 5.

Canterbury, L. Abp. Bertie of Thame, V. Lambourne, L. [Teller.]
Cave, V. MacDonnell, L.
Somerset, D. Finlay, V. Meldrum, L. (M. Huntly.)
Bristol, M. Hutchinson, V. (E. Donoughmore.) Mendip, L. (V.Clifden.)
Lansdowne, M. Monteagle, L. (M. Sligo.)
Zetland, M. Muir Mackenzie, L.
Worcester, L. Bp. O'Hagan, L.
Bradford, E.
Buxton, E. Parmoor, L.
Chesterfield, E. Abinger, L. Queen borough, L.
Clarendon, E. Ashton of Hyde, L. Rathereedan, L.
Craven, E. Askwith, L. Ribblesdale, L. [Teller.]
Dartmouth, E. Balfour, L. Roundway, L.
Eldon, E. Barrymore, L. Rowallan, L,.
Fortescue, E. Buckmaster, L. Shandon, L.
Harewood, E. Charnwood, L. Somerleyton, L.
Kimberley, E. Clanwilliam, L. (E. Clanwilliam.) Southwark, L.
Lindaey, E. Clwyd, L. Stanmore, L.
Lucan, E. Colebrooke, L. Strachie, L.
Lytton, E. Colwyn, L. Stuart of Wortley, L.
Mar and Kellie, E. Crawshaw, L. Sudley, L. (E. Arran.)
Onslow, E. Dynevor, L. Vernon, L.
Yarborough, E. Erskine, L. Wigan, L. (E. Crawford.)
Glenarthur, L. Wrenbury, L.
Sandhurst, V. (L. Chamberlain.) Hawke, L. Ystwyth, L.
Allendale, V. Islington, L.
Lanesborougb, E. [Teller.] Forester, L. Newton, L. [Teller.]
Knollys, V. Lamington, L.

Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Remaining clause agreed to.

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