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Hardman’s Parliamentary Burn Book

Isabel Hardman
Jan 25, 2017 · 22 min read
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Welcome to the Burn Book, a regularly updated list of the utterly pointless questions (UPQs) that MPs ask in the House of Commons Chamber in order to suck up to the government.

UPQs are seemingly innocuous questions which are actually a total menace to Parliamentary scrutiny. They might involve an MP asking about a apple pie shop or motherhood club in a backbencher’s constituency which allow the MP to a) release a press release to the local press saying they have praised said apple pie shop or motherhood club, b) make a wider point about how important it is that the government encourages more motherhood and apple pie c) waste a minute of the question time session in the Commons by allowing a Prime Minister or minister to catch breath and have an easy ride — and prevent someone else asking an actual question about policy. Or else the MP can ask the minister at the Dispatch Box to agree with them that it is really important to support motherhood and increase apple pie. Which, surprisingly, the minister always does.

They normally run along the lines of:

‘Mr Speaker, the number of households enjoying motherhood and apple pie in my constituency has doubled in the past year. Will the Prime Minister agree with me that it is important to stay committed to the government’s five-year apple pie plan?’

Prime Minister: ‘My honourable friend asks an excellent question. Across the country, 500,000 more people have been enjoying apple pie as a result of our long-term economic plan — something that Labour, with its plan to cut down all the apple trees, would quickly destroy.’

There is a long-term plan in a backbencher’s mind when he or she asks a UPQ. By being loyal and helping a minister out, they hope that they will get noticed and promoted from being a humble scrutineer of government policy to working as a minister — even though such lickspittle behaviour is no indication of whether you will do any good at all in a government department.

Labour, of course, is as guilty of this when in government as the Tories — it’s just that memories of Labour backbenchers trying to suck up to the government are receding somewhat. But while these questions are sometimes funny, they do weaken scrutiny in the House of Commons Chamber — and we should all be annoyed by them.

So each week, I will add the text of UPQs asked in the House of Commons at departmental questions and PMQs to name and shame the backbenchers who have wasted their valuable slot in the Chamber and who misunderstand their role as a member of the legislature supposedly holding the executive to account. It won’t include questions that are probing a minister on the limits of a policy, or local questions about a model that an MP feels should be replicated across the country, as these still have value. UPQs are the ones where a local link is used to fill the space in the Commons and make a glib political point. It is the sad, geeky, Parliamentary equivalent of the Mean Girls Burn Book, a literary trope we all know very well.

We will kick off with today’s UPQ at PMQs from Conservative Rebecca Pow, about cake, rather than apple pie:

Pow: ‘Thank you very much Mr Speaker. The Ministry of Cake in my constituency of Taunton Deane, a £30 million turnover company has recently been bought by a French company called Mademoiselle Desserts. They trade across Europe, the Ministry of Cake, and into China. Does this not demonstrate, Prime Minister, and would you agree with me, that it demonstrates confidence in our economy, in that a European company has bought into it, it demonstrates that we can unlock global trade, and it demonstrates that the South West is a terrific place to do business.’

Prime Minister: ‘I absolutely agree with my honourable friend…’

28 June 2017 — Prime Minister’s Questions

Suella Fernandes: In Fareham 63% of voters chose the Conservatives, a share of the vote not seen since 1935. Will my right hon. Friend join me in reminding the Chamber that this side won the election and the other side lost? Will she join me in thanking the good people of Fareham for placing their trust in the Conservatives and reassuring them that she is the best person to deliver a prosperity-led and successful Brexit?

The Prime Minister: I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in thanking the good people of Fareham for re-electing a first-class Member of Parliament to this House to represent them. She is absolutely right, of course, that it was the Conservative party that got the highest percentage share of votes in this election, the Conservative party that got the most seats — 56 more seats than the Labour party — and the Conservative party that got more votes. That is why we are an effective Government.

Marcus Fysh: Is the Prime Minister aware of the current crisis in Venezuela, and is it an example of how an experiment in socialist revolution can go horribly wrong?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point, and I hope the Leader of the Opposition has heard what he had to say. When we are talking about trade deals in the future, I sometimes think that the Leader of the Opposition and his shadow Chancellor think that the only good trade deals are with Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea.

Ben Bradley: Does the Prime Minister agree that an Opposition leader who claims to be all things to all men and says one thing to remain voters in London and quite the opposite to leave voters in constituencies such as mine is actually no kind of leader at all? Perhaps that might be why voters in my constituency rejected his leadership in the recent election.

The Prime Minister: First, I welcome my hon. Friend to his place in this House. I was very pleased to visit his constituency during the election campaign, and he is absolutely right: what people want to know is what the position of the parties is on the question of Brexit. We are very clear that we want to see the country coming together, because we want to deliver on the will of the British people, which was that we should leave the European Union. It is precisely what this Government will do.

26 April 2017 — Prime Minister’s Questions

Michael Fabricant: What recent assessment she has made of the (a) performance of the economy and (b) adequacy of provision of public services in the west midlands; and if she will make a statement.

The Prime Minister: The economy in the west midlands is performing well. Businesses are continuing to invest, and since 2010 employment in the west midlands has risen by 180,000. That is because the Conservatives in government have safeguarded the economy. As a result — my hon. Friend asks about public services — there are more doctors and more nurses in his hospitals, because you can only have strong public services when you have the strong and stable leadership that delivers a strong economy.

Michael Fabricant: I think what this nation needs is a strong and stable Government. But is it not the case that thanks to devolution, we will not only have — I hope — strong and stable government after the general election, but strong and stable leadership in the west midlands if the right choice is made on 4 May?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes a powerful point, because on 4 May, people in the west midlands have the opportunity to elect a strong local leader who will oversee £8 billion of investment. In Andy Street, I think that they have absolutely the man who has the local knowledge, the business experience, and the commitment to the west midlands to deliver for the whole west midlands. Of course, on 8 June, people in the west midlands will then have the opportunity to elect the strong and stable leadership of a Conservative Government. Working together, strong Conservative leadership in the west midlands and strong Conservative leadership in government will deliver for the west midlands.

Richard Drax: In 2015, a group called the Socialist Campaign for a Labour Victory incredulously drew up a plan to disband MI5, disarm the police and scrap our nuclear deterrent. Would my right hon. Friend allow anyone who endorsed such a plan to write her manifesto or, indeed, serve in her Cabinet?

The Prime Minister: My answer to that is a resounding no, I would not. I commend my hon. Friend, who has a proud record of defending our country. He raises an important point because, of course, the Leader of the Opposition has chosen just such a person. The plan to disband MI5, disarm our police and scrap our nuclear deterrent was endorsed by the right hon. Gentleman’s policy chief and even by his shadow Chancellor. At the weekend, we saw the right hon. Gentleman again refusing to say that he would strike against terrorism, refusing to commit to our nuclear deterrent and refusing to control our borders. Keeping our country safe is the first duty of a Prime Minister. The right hon. Gentleman is simply not up to the job.

Byron Davies: Record employment, the national living wage, strong national defences and keeping our promises on Europe — these are just some of the achievements that we can be proud that this Government have delivered. Does my right hon. Friend agree that only a vote for strong and stable Conservative leadership in the national interest on 8 June will continue to deliver on the economy, defence and a deal with Europe, and that the only way to enable businesses, such as the Gower Brewery, and residents in Gower to continue to thrive is by re-electing a Conservative MP for the second time?

The Prime Minister: I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He has of course, since his fantastic, historic election in Gower, been a really powerful voice for his constituents, but also, indeed, for the needs of Wales more generally. I have already referred to the fact that I was in Wales yesterday, and had the opportunity to speak to people in business and to meet voters and hear their concerns, but my hon. Friend goes absolutely to the heart of the matter when he says that what is necessary is a good Brexit deal. That is crucial for businesses, it is crucial for jobs and it is only achievable by a strong and stable Government. Every vote for me and the Conservatives, and for Conservative candidates at local level, will strengthen our hand in those negotiations.

Mr Peter Lilley: Does my right hon. Friend realise that I am standing down after 34 years because of her? I am standing down because I am confident that the country will be safe after the election under her strong and stable leadership. Does she agree that seizing the opportunities presented by regaining control over our laws, our money, our borders and our trade will be more important than the ​terms of any exit deal and that, if we are to secure a reasonable deal, we must accept that no deal is indeed better than a bad deal? To deny this signals that no price is too high, no concession too grovelling to accept — a recipe for the worst possible deal.

I wish my right hon. Friend, all hon. Members and this House I love Godspeed.

The Prime Minister: I thank my right hon. Friend for the tremendous contribution that he has made throughout his years as a Member of the House, not only on behalf of his constituents but during his time as a valued Minister in a Conservative Government. He has rightly highlighted the importance of the decision that was made last year by the people of the United Kingdom, and I commend him for the role that he played in the referendum campaign.

It is right that we get on with the job of delivering Brexit and making a success of it, which means having a strong hand in negotiations. The only way to ensure that that is the case — for the people of Hitchin and Harpenden and for the whole UK — is to ensure that a Conservative Government is elected on 8 June.

Dame Angela Watkinson: It was a privilege to win back the seat of Upminster in 2001 for the Conservatives. Will my right hon. Friend tell the House why the good people of Hornchurch and Upminster should continue to vote Conservative at the coming election?

The Prime Minister: First, I should like to pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the contribution that she has made, not just for her constituents but in the time she served in the Whips Office in this House, for example. I am happy to tell the voters of Hornchurch and Upminster that every vote for me and the local Conservative candidate will strengthen our hand in the Brexit negotiations to get the best deal for this country, every vote for me and the local Conservative candidate will be a vote for a stronger economy and every vote for me and the local Conservative candidate will be a vote for a strong and stable leadership in the national interest, compared with the coalition of chaos that we would see under the Labour party.

Sir Simon Burns: Mr Speaker, may I thank you for that? May I tell my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that, for 30 years, I have had the privilege and the honour to represent the great people of Chelmsford? May I tell her that the great people of Chelmsford are perspicacious and that they have always wanted a Government who provide strong defences, a strong economy and strong leadership? May I also tell her that it is the Conservative party under her strong leadership that will deliver for this country for the next five years?

The Prime Minister: I thank my right hon. Friend for the significant contribution that he has made for his constituents in Chelmsford, in this House and in government over his period of time here. He is absolutely right to say that his constituents will be looking for strong defences, a strong economy and the strong leadership that will build a more secure future for this country, and it is only a Conservative Government that can provide that.

19 April 2017 — Prime Minister’s Questions

Alberto Costa: Strong countries need strong economies. Strong countries need strong defences. Strong countries need strong leaders. As the nation prepares to go to the polls, who else in this House, apart from my right hon. Friend, can provide the leadership that is needed at this time?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There are three things that a country needs: a strong economy, strong defence, and strong, stable leadership. That is what our plans for Brexit and our plans for a stronger Britain will deliver. That is what the Conservative party will be offering at this election, and we will be out there fighting for every vote. The right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) would bankrupt our economy and weaken our defences and is simply not fit to lead.

Mary Robinson: I too welcome the announcement from the Prime Minister yesterday, and I look forward to the general election and to taking my positive message to my constituents in Cheadle in June. Over the past two years, I have pressed for first-class transport infrastructure for Cheadle, and this week I launched my transport survey so my constituents can have their say on what is needed to keep Cheadle moving and be at the heart of the northern powerhouse. Does my right hon. Friend agree that residents in Cheadle need to vote Conservative on 8 June to ensure that we get continued investment in transport and infrastructure, not only in Cheadle but across the north-west?

The Prime Minister: I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend on that point. I know she has been working very hard for her constituents in Cheadle on transport and other issues. Of course, it is under this Government that the Department for Transport is investing £290 million to improve transport links to Manchester airport through Cheadle, and £2.1 million has been committed to improving walking and cycling routes around the Cheadle Hulme district centre. That is why the choice is so clear. As my hon. Friend says, if she wants to see that funding for infrastructure, we need a strong economy, which only the Conservatives can deliver.

David Mackintosh: The only way to fund crucial infrastructure is with a strong economy. To that end, does my right hon. Friend agree that the St James Mill link road in Northampton would help with traffic flow in the town and unlock development in the enterprise zone? Will the next Conservative Government continue to support me, as the MP, in backing the scheme?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right that we need to have a strong economy if we are to be able to fund that crucial infrastructure. That is why, since 2015, we have increased our annual investment in economic infrastructure by almost 60% to £22 billion per year by 2021, including £2.6 billion for improvements in transport projects. I am happy to see the link road proposal being put forward by his local enterprise partnership; it will improve access to business and unlock development in the area. My hon. Friend has worked hard to see it happen, and I am sure he will continue to campaign on issues like that which matter so much to his constituents.

Philip Hollobone: Life for ordinary working families is harder than many people at Westminster realise: “You have a job, but not necessarily job security. You are just about managing, but you are worried about the cost of living and getting your kids into a good school. You are ​doing your best, and a Conservative Government will do all it can to make sure that you have more control over your life.” These were the inspiring words of the Prime Minister when she took office last July. Will she come to Kettering, Britain’s most average town, and repeat these, her core beliefs? If she does so, I know she will be warmly and widely acclaimed as the Prime Minister this country needs for the next five years.

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight ordinary working families who do rely on the Government to provide stability and certainty for them, and that is what this Conservative Government have done. Looking at what we have done, we see that we have supported jobs through significant new investment in skills, we have invested in public services such as childcare and the NHS, and we have enhanced consumer protections. I am happy to repeat the words that I said outside Downing Street on 13 July last year, but it is Conservatives in government who have delivered strong and stable leadership, and that is the message I will be taking out to the country during this election.

29 March 2017 — Prime Minister’s Questions

Matt Warman: Three quarters of my constituents voted to leave the European Union. Does the Prime Minister agree that triggering article 50 marks a watershed moment, not only in this country’s control of immigration and our sovereignty, but in listening to the views of people who were forgotten for far too long?

The Prime Minister: I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend; in invoking article 50, we are not just putting into practice the views of the British people as set out in that referendum on 23 June last year. Crucially, that was not just a vote about leaving the EU; it was a vote about changing this country for the future. This Government have a clear plan for Britain that will change this country, and that will see us with a more global outlook, a stronger economy, a fairer society and a more united nation.

Paul Scully: I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on invoking article 50 today. Does she agree that this needs to be the end of the phoney war — the end of the posturing we have heard from Members on the Opposition Benches — and that we must now focus on the detail for every industry, sector and community, so that we get a bespoke deal that we can all get behind?

The Prime Minister: I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. Now is the time for us to come together, and to be united across the House and across the country to ensure that we work for the best possible deal for the United Kingdom, and the best possible future for us all.

22 March 2017 — Prime Minister’s Questions

Lucy Allan: Telford is a story of transformation and progress. From the ironmasters of the first industrial revolution through to a new revolution in high-tech manufacturing at Telford’s T54 today, it has helped to build Britain. As the Government ​deliver on the democratic will of the British people and trigger article 50, will my right hon. Friend tell us how Telford will prosper from Brexit and from her plan for Britain?

The Prime Minister: As I have said before, the referendum result was not just about membership of the EU; it was a vote to change the way that this country works, and who it works for, forever, to make Britain a country that works for everyone, not just the privileged few. That is why the plan for Britain is a plan to get the right deal for Britain abroad, but also to build a stronger, fairer Britain for ordinary working families here at home, like those in Telford. I am pleased that we have already provided £17 million of funding to The Marches local enterprise partnership to improve local infrastructure in Telford. This Government are putting those resources in, and our plan for Britain will deliver that stronger, fairer economy and a more united and more outward-looking country than ever before.

Mr Ranil Jayawardena: The International Trade Committee has been taking evidence about exports from chambers of commerce this morning. Given the Prime Minister’s commitment to a global Britain, does she agree that we can maintain good relations with our European friends as we leave the European Union and also build on our long-standing relationships with our Commonwealth friends across the world to trade our way to greater prosperity?

The Prime Minister: One of the four pillars of our plan for Britain is a global Britain — that more outward-looking Britain. My hon. Friend is right that this is not just a question of ensuring that we get the right relationship with Europe when we leave the EU. We do want to continue to have a partnership — to be able to trade freely across Europe, and for companies in EU member states to trade with us — but we also want to enhance and improve our arrangements for trade with other parts of the world, including members of the Commonwealth.

15 March 2017 — Prime Minister’s Questions

Will Quince: Colchester hospital’s A&E department has excellent staff, but suffers from poor layout and patient flow. Does the Prime Minister agree with me that the £100 million set out for triage in the Budget last week will enable hospitals such as mine to address this issue and improve patient outcomes?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is right to recognise, and we should all recognise, the hard work and dedication of our excellent staff throughout the NHS. What we are seeing in the NHS is that A&Es are treating more people than ever before. We are spending half a trillion pounds on the NHS in England during this Parliament, and the NHS is going to see an increase in its funding of £10 billion in real terms, but there is sometimes an issue, as my hon. Friend says, about the configuration of A&E and enabling changes to take place to help the flow, and to help in dealing with potential patients as they come in. That is why my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced last week £425 million in new capital investment in the NHS, which includes £100 million to help manage the demand on A&E services, enabling hospitals to make changes to ensure people are treated in the most appropriate way possible.

Victoria Atkins: Last weekend, thousands of people from across Lincolnshire came to the Revesby races in my constituency to enjoy the racing and the delicious local food, including award-winning Lincolnshire sausages. As the Government prepare to strike new international trade deals, will my right hon. Friend ensure that the high standards we expect of our food producers and farmers will be met and maintained in these deals, and will this Government continue to back British farming?

The Prime Minister: I can assure my hon. Friend that we will certainly do that. I remember, when I visited her prior to the general election in 2015, sampling some of the excellent Lincolnshire sausages that come from her ​constituency. We have an opportunity to build a new future for our food and farming industry when we leave the European Union. We will maintain the UK’s high standards of food safety and of animal welfare; that will be a priority for us. Any trade deals we enter into will need to be right for consumers, for businesses and for farmers, and will need to ensure our food safety and environmental protection, and of course the animal welfare standards I have just referred to. We recognise the need for certainty for businesses. We have already provided guarantees on support for farmers up to 2020, and I can assure her that we will continue to back British farmers.

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown: With 80% of small and medium-sized enterprises reluctant to export, does my right hon. Friend agree that the prospect of Brexit gives those firms — particularly those from Scotland — a golden opportunity to use the great British entrepreneurial spirit to go out into the world and succeed?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Small businesses and entrepreneurs are essential to an economy that is working for everyone. The opportunity that comes from Brexit is to see those firms go out and export across the world, and to do those trade deals that will be of benefit to them, to their communities and to our economy. We want to encourage more businesses to go out there and export. That is exactly what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Trade is doing. This is an important part of building a stronger, fairer Britain for the future.

Dr Caroline Johnson: The people of Sleaford and North Hykeham voted strongly in favour of Brexit, and I was very proud to be here in the House on Monday to vote in support of the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill. Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister confirm that she shares my commitment to a Brexit that works in the best interests of everyone in our country?


The Prime Minister: Thank you, Mr Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Dr Johnson) is absolutely right. As she says, her constituency voted overwhelmingly to leave the European Union. The point is that the people of the United Kingdom voted by a majority to leave the European Union. As we do that, we will ensure that the deal we achieve in our negotiations is the right deal for the whole of the United Kingdom — for people in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

8 March 2017 — Prime Minister’s Questions

Michael Fabricant: What recent assessment she has made of the (a) performance of the economy and (b) adequacy of provision of public services in the Midlands Engine region; and if she will make a statement. [909124]

The Prime Minister: Although I will not speculate on the statement that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will make very shortly, I can assure my hon. Friend that the fundamentals of our economy are strong. Since 2010, employment in the west midlands has risen by 215,000 and private sector employment alone grew ​by 80,000 in the past year. We have also seen schools and police budgets being protected, and more doctors and nurses in his local hospitals.

Michael Fabricant: And of course we have also witnessed the post-Brexit vote of confidence from Nissan, Boeing and Dyson investing in other parts of the country, but will my right hon. Friend say a little bit more about firms like Jaguar Land Rover in the west midlands?

The Prime Minister: I am happy to say to my hon. Friend that in the wider sense, of course, our plans for the midlands engine show that we want an economy that works for everyone. We have already confirmed over £330 million in the growth deal funding and money is going into the midlands engine investment fund and the Birmingham rail hub, but it is also important to recognise the investment that is being made in the UK by companies like Jaguar Land Rover, which will be building its new Range Rover model in Solihull. That is very good news for the west midlands and also for the British economy. It is a sign of the confidence that Jaguar Land Rover has in the UK for the future.

Amanda Milling: On this International Women’s Day, it is absolutely fantastic that we have the highest female employment rate and the highest percentage of women on FTSE 100 boards on record, that the gender pay gap is at the lowest on record, and that we have an amazing female Prime Minister. However, I am sure the Prime Minister will agree that there is still much more to do, particularly in supporting women back to work after a career break. Will my right hon. Friend outline what more the Government are going to do to level the playing field?

The Prime Minister: I thank my hon. Friend for her question. When I stood on the steps of Downing Street back in July and talked about a country that works for everyone, I meant that. That is why we are taking a number of measures, including on International Women’s Day today. We are setting up a new fund to help mothers returning to work after a long career break. Returnships are important. They are open to men and women, but we should all recognise that the majority of those who take time out of a career are women who devote themselves to motherhood for a period. Getting back into employment is often very difficult for them; they find that it is closed off. That is why, as well as making economic sense, it is right and fair for those women that we provide for returnships to enable them to get back into the workplace.

Victoria Atkins: International Women’s Day is a chance to reflect on how Governments and democracies across the world serve women. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, when it comes to female Prime Ministers, it is 2:0 to the Conservatives?

The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for having pointed that out, which I refrained from doing earlier in response to questions. I think it is very telling that the Labour party spends a lot of time talking about rights for women, giving support to women and getting women on, whereas it is the Conservative party that is the party in this House that has provided two female Prime Ministers.

1 March 2017 — Prime Minister’s Questions

Andrew Bridgen: ‘Following last week’s historic by-election victory in Copeland, does my right honourable friend believe this is an endorsement of her government’s plans to maintain a strong economy, bring our society together and ensure that we make a huge success of leaving the European Union?’

Theresa May: ‘Can I thank my honourable friend…’

28 February 2017 — Treasury Questions

Philip Hollobone: Will the Chief Secretary confirm that record amounts of money are being spent on the NHS, that record numbers of patients are being treated and that he will give clear incentives to local authorities and health services to join up the delivery of NHS and social care?

David Gauke: My hon. Friend raises an important point. He is absolutely correct about the resources that we are putting in, but if we want to improve the quality of healthcare, particularly in the context of social care, it is also important that there is greater integration. That is why we announced the better care fund, which is making an important contribution to supporting social care and improving integration.

Michael Fabricant: My right hon. Friend will know that Boeing is a major employer in the United Kingdom. The opening of Boeing Sheffield, as it will be known, means that a major manufacturing plant — the only one of its type — will be introduced into Europe. Is that not a major endorsement by Boeing of post-Brexit Britain?

Philip Hammond: Yes, that is two things: it is a major endorsement by a global company and a major vote of confidence in the British economy. It is also a reflection of this Government’s policy that where we place large contracts for military equipment, as we have done with Boeing, we insist on some compensating investment in our economy, so that the investment in our military capability pays for jobs, skills and technology in the UK.

Alan Mak: As the Minister continues his discussions on passporting, will he ensure that he maintains a dialogue with business associations and trade bodies such as TheCityUK, to ensure that we get the best possible settlement?

Simon Kirby: I can reassure my hon. Friend that the Treasury is very much in listening mode. We definitely want the best possible deal and we are clear that it is the end result, rather than the mechanism, that is important.

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