Gallery Guido: The Questions Bercow Must Answer on Monday

The Speaker will stand up at 2.30 on Monday and make an announcement on the new Clerk. Because it could be the end of John Bercow’s Commons career he will make the speech of his life.

It will be a parliamentary masterpiece of apology, mild defiance, injured dignity and ostentatious consensus-seeking.

Players of Oratorical Bingo should look out for:

The timetable was dictated by the outgoing Clerk’s resignation. Process better than we had before. Advertised. Open competition. So necessary to meet the extraordinary challenges we face. All worked hard, interviewed many candidates, acted in good faith as servants of the House. I am the servant of the House. I am referring the matter back to the House in the form of the House of Commons Commission. They will report their recommendations back to the House.

Then, expect:

MP: Point of order!

Speaker: “First there are questions, then a statement by the Prime Minister. Points of order always come after the statement.” (He will want the Prime Minister first to paint a picture of global collapse, jihad, party defection, Euro-turmoil in order to make procedural points seem petty.)

MP: “But it IS after the statement. You’ve just made a statement!”

Speaker confers with Interim Clerk Natzler. Then, sensationally, “It was an announcement, not a statement.”

If MPs lose this argument, Points of Order may begin around 4.30 or 5pm, if the Speaker can drag proceedings out.

The Speaker will answer each point, some at filibustering length, some with the holding answer: “This is a matter for the House of Commons Commission. Let them do their work and report to the House.”

There are many questions outstanding. Here are some of the most important, as raised by Guido over the summer…

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Bercow Backtracking Fast: Showdown Coming, Monday

Later Gallery Guido will predict what the Speaker will say, the attitude he will take, the apology he will deploy, the blocking technique he will use, and the Points of Order storm that will follow (under the general heading Not So Fast, Mate).

John Bercow fighting for his position will be a most  impressive experience for all concerned, and the parliamentary event of the year.

Quentin Letts also has more:

Respected backbenchers Jesse Norman (Con) and Natascha Engel (Lab) have assembled an impressive force of parliamentary supporters for a move to debate the appointment of Carol Mills in the House. If that happens, Mr Bercow may have to resign.

Bercow is in a hole. Although there is no shortage of personal opprobrium for him — he is the most uncongenial of men — this rumpus is about principle. Who runs the Commons: its Members or their biased Speaker? And that, surely, is a matter for us all. It is our Parliament, not his. It is now embarrassingly obvious that he fixed the committee that selected Ms Mills and that he did so with the assistance of the Shadow Leader of the Commons, Angela Eagle, and the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, Margaret Hodge.

Monday is going to be fun.

Gallery Guido:This is Not the First Job Bercow Has Stitched Up

Will a pre-appointment hearing for Carol Mills examine the murky appointment process run by the Speaker?

Investigators will be interested how the Speaker got what he wanted in the appointment of his Chaplain in 2010.

An eye-witness to the events spoke to Guido today and disclosed the following.

A Speaker has no formal role in the selection of the Speaker’s Chaplain, it is a Church appointment with two roles – one in the Commons, the other across the road in the Abbey.

John Bercow insisted that half the short list of six be female. He pre-determined the winning candidate would be female. “A female is going to do that job. It has to be a female,” he is quoted as saying.

Although he had no right, he insisted on speaking to all the candidates himself.

He rang up the selection board and lobbied them.

He continued to operate in the general election period when he had no official standing as an MP.

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Gallery Guido: What Was Margaret Hodge Thinking?

Considering Margaret Hodge’s titles – Protector of the Public Purse, Scourge of the Quangocracy, Chair of the Public Accounts committee – you have to wonder what she was doing agreeing to Carol Mills’ appointment.

As Guido reported, Carol Mills’ delinquencies and profligacies would have earned her the withering criticism of Hodge’s PAC.

Every Parliament, Mills replaced the entire Australian parliamentary crockery stock at a cost of $80,000.

She couldn’t cut $400,000 out of the pool and gym budget so she took it out of security.

She refurbished her office at a cost of $1m.

She presided over criminal misappropriations without informing the police.

But these are mere hors d’ouevres prior to the 500-course feast that the Senate inquiry into her department will serve up when it gets underway.

Who Ms Mills’ referees were, and whether Mrs Hodge gave them due diligence is something that will doubtless emerge as events grind them out. Saxton Bampfylde (sic) the head hunters will also need to explain how they weren’t to blame for anything.

But finally – and most obvious of all, to someone of Hodge’s experience, Ms Mills discourse gives her away. She talks in the obscene Esperanto that international bureaucrats use to bamboozle politicians

” . . . we established a fostering inclusion and respect framework to guide the implementation of measures to promote ethical behaviour across all levels of DPS.”

Hodge on committee would insist on that sort of rubbish being translated into English.

So what was she up to?

If anyone could be counted on to vote against an Old Etonian, it would have been the former leader of Islington Council at its institutional looniest.

Guido suspects that would have been her primary qualification for what Bercow wanted.

Remember, Bercow’s main purpose in this comically unprofessional fiasco was to diminish the standing of the Clerk, to eliminate other interpretations of parliamentary procedure. That way he’d enjoy ever-greater freedom for his princely rule.

That power-mania is what underlies the whole shambles.

Everything You Need to Know About the Bercow RowLeaked Memo From Speaker's Opponents Explains All

Been away? Well this memo prepared by the cross-party alliance who have hamstrung the Speaker – tells you everything you need to know about the row over who will be the new Clerk of the House of Commons and whether the job will be split:

Bercow will face scrutiny about what looks remarkably like dirty tricks in his attempt to install his preferred external candidate into the role:

“The internal candidates were given less notice of the presentation required and of its subject than the external candidates (the former on the Monday before interview, the latter the previous Friday). The external candidates were offered a briefing meeting with the Speaker as Chair of the Board; the Clerk candidates were not. Some of the questioning appears not to have accorded with best practice. It is also reported that the Speaker gave the panel the benefit of his personal views of the Clerk candidates. All this may be explored in Tribunal proceedings.”

Just ten days after twisting arms on the selection panel, he has backed down and realised just how much trouble he is in. It would appear he greatly underestimated his opponents…

Gallery Guido: Disaster Strikes Retreating Speaker

The retreating Speaker is now offering to split Robert Rogers’ role (which he always wanted) but have the new administrative position answer to the Clerk (which he never wanted).

This is a disaster for John Bercow – to save his job he has significantly strengthened the Clerk and created an alternative power base backstage.

But this isn’t the end, or even the beginning of the end.

The current legal and procedural shambles is the end of the beginning.

Carol Mills will be doing half the job at twice the salary. At the moment she still has the grace and favour grandeur of 3 Parliament St.

This is clearly untenable.

The process needs to start again.

Without the need for procedural knowledge a multitude of candidates will present themselves for one of the most prestigious jobs in the public service.

Carol Mills’ employment lawyer is going to make a fortune.

Bercow Blinks

In the middle of the August recess, Bercow quietly slipped the name of his preferred choice of Common’s Clerk to No 10 for them to send to the Palace. As the BBC reported on 19 August:

“Speaker John Bercow’s choice to take over as Parliament’s most senior official is almost certain to get the job…

…a spokesman for House of Commons leader William Hague said it would be “pretty extraordinary” if Downing Street were to reject the panel’s chosen candidate.

A source close to Mr Bercow called the recruitment process, which included two interviews, “fair and transparent”.”

After sitting on it for 9 days, Downing Street have now made clear they are not happy. Bercow has woken up to the crisis, despite still standing by his choice for Clerk late last week. A source tells the Times Red Box:

“He realises there are big problems here and he does not want to do something to which the House is opposed. As far as we know he wants to be re-elected as Speaker in 2015. And neither would John want to embarrass the Queen.”

Bercow is now signalling he would be happy to look again at splitting the role – something opposed by Tory backbenchers, but the current Clerk has fired a missile at that idea too. Again the BBC:

“Sir Robert Rogers – the most senior official in the House of Commons – says a suggestion his role could be split to create two posts of equal seniority is the ‘wrong answer’. Adding ‘the buck must stop somewhere, and it needs to stop with the official who is responsible to the House, not to a Chief Executive responsible to the Speaker and the House of Commons Commission’.”

Bercow has blinked, but this will rumble on yet. Either way, is it not about time the ‘listening speaker’ consulted those  he was elected to serve – the MPs.

Almost 10% of MPs Already Backing Stop Mills MotionMajor Shift From No.10 on Bercow's Appointment

According to sources close to Jesse Norman’s tally sheet, more than 50 MPs from across the House are backing plan to delay the appointment of Carol Mills and set up a proper pre-appointment hearing – currently 8% of all MPs. The Speccie have the wording of said motion:

‘That this House believes that the recommendation of Ms Carol Mills to be Clerk of this House should be subject to, and contingent upon, a pre-appointment hearing and report by a select committee.’

Sources have let it be known to Guido that this is no old guard operation:

“It’s not the usual suspects but very much younger Members, new Members, Modernisers, etc. And the numbers are building steadily despite the issues of reaching people during recess/Bank Holiday etc. We’ve had people calling in from their holidays to add their names. There is real concern and anger about this. So there’s a head of steam building strongly for the Commons to have its say.”

There is no cross party support for Mills, and No. 10 have woken up to this.

A significant moment in this row.

'Canberra Caterer' Missed Catering Scandal on Her WatchExpensive Scandals on CV of Potential Commons Chief Exec

The limited defenders of Carol Mills, who go under the name ‘friends of Bercow’ in the press, point to her experience running the Department for Parliamentary Services of the Australian parliament, as well as the enormity of the ‘Chief Executive’ role of the Common’s clerk – who essentially runs the parliamentary estate. Leaving aside allegations of spying on both politicians and hacks alike, apparently Mills would make an excellent Chief Executive if the role was split. Yet, does her track record really back up that claim?

In February of this year Mills was forced to admit that the DPS had missed an ongoing catering fraud. She told a Senate hearing it “was likely” that “inappropriate practice” had been going on for two years through a $550,000-a-year contract. It was found that W Catering had been using parliamentary facilities to cater for other events they were running, outside of parliament. There was political consternation over the fact that instead of calling in the cops, Mills took the decision to bring in “an external organisation look at all the material that I could find in terms of the accounts, the proceedings, etc.” At a cost to the taxpayer, natch.

Nor was this the first time that Mills had reached for the expensive outside consultants instead of dealing with matters through traditional internal channels and the law. Back in 2012, after a major security breach on her watch that saw an intruder enter the Parliament and get within touching distance of the Aussie PM, Mills shifted the blame by commissioning a $30,000 report by an external bureaucrat. Again, it turned out to be a matter for the police to deal with, but not before the money was wasted. 

Missed fraud scandals and security breaches don’t look great on Mills’ CV, but how she ultimately dealt with these problems – expensively – will really irritate MPs. Lots to discuss at a pre-selection hearing…

Gallery Guido: The Bercow Remedy

The House feels it is being bounced into accepting a split role of Clerk and chief executive. MPs are complaining.

They feel that the split, if desirable, needs thought.

Whether the chief executive should answer to the Clerk of the House or to the Speaker is one important consideration.

The remedy is in their hands.

If the Backbench Business committee grants a debate with a votable Motion – and the Motion is carried – then the decision will be implemented forthwith. It is House business.

The Motion would say something along the lines of . . . A pre-appointment process should enquire into the splitting of the roles of Clerk and chief executive of the Commons in the first place and only once that principle has been established should the candidacy of Carol Mills for Clerk and chief executive be subject to a pre-appointment hearing with the power to reject her.

It needs a clerk to write the Motion, obviously. Someone who knows what they are doing.

Charges Against Bercow Puppet More Serious Than Reported Facing Possible Six Months Imprisonment for Contempt

“She may not be much of a clerk, as she knows nothing about procedure, but I’m happy to accept the panel’s assessment that she’s a first rate chief executive.”

That’s what generous people say about the clerical candidate Carol Mills.

But what evidence is there that she is this high-calibre, fair-minded apostle of the Nolan Principles of Public Life?

An admission she made in a committee hearing in May this year caused an astonished senator to call for, and to be granted, an emergency debate in the Senate followed by an Inquiry (yet to report).

President of the Senate John Hogg described Ms Mills’ admission as “a very serious matter”, saying:

“It is fundamental to the law of parliamentary privilege that any act that has the effect or tendency of constituting improper interference with the free performance by a senator of the senator’s duties as a senator may be treated as a contempt.”

The maximum sentence for contempt includes six months in jail.

Carol Mills took over Canberra’s dysfunctional Department of Parliamentary Services in 2012. Whistleblowers were still releasing information to Senator Faulkner two years later.

Ms Mills’ management response had a dash of Stasi in it: she monitored the comings and goings of the senator’s office by the use of CCTV.

Second, and separately, there is an inquiry – unanimously agreed and sponsored by all parties and Independents in the Senate – into the performance of Ms Mills’ DPS.

This is not a routine appraisal.

The terms of reference are very wide-ranging and will scrutinise every level of this riven department – still considered by some to be the worst-administered department in the Commonwealth, even after two years of Ms Mills ‘ world-class leadership.

Guido repeats the question asked before. Was the panel of selection informed of these inquiries? Was the seriousness of the charges revealed?   And if so, what was the panel thinking?

The Clerk is the highest guarantor of parliamentary privilege – they had sitting in front of them someone being investigated for breaching it.

Were they told? And if not , why not?

UPDATE: Looks like we will be getting some movement:

Meanwhile government sentiment seems to be hardening: “Discontent rising,” says one source. “Consulting parliament was supposed to be his USP in the role, after all.”

The 'Canberra Caterer' Breaks Her Silence Over Spying Row


As former Labour Ministers join the outcry over Bercow’s choice of Commons Clerk, Carol Mills has told the Guardian Australia:

“I was disappointed to read an email reportedly from the clerk of the Senate, one of my peers at the Parliament of Australia, in the media. It would not be appropriate for me to comment further in a personal capacity at this time. As a senior parliamentary officer, I take seriously my responsibilities to promote and uphold the values and code of conduct articulated in the Commonwealth of Australia Parliamentary Service Act 1999.

I take this opportunity to thank the many people in Australia and the United Kingdom, including senior parliamentarians and parliamentary officers, who have supported me in my current role as secretary of the department of parliamentary services (DPS) as well as encouraging me to be considered for the role in the UK parliament.”

Mills said her Department of Parliamentary Services “looks forward to the opportunity to explain to the [privileges] committee the basis of its view that use of the CCTV footage was in fact authorised, and wholly consistent with parliamentary privilege.” Australian politicians have accused Mills of spying on them.

“Until such a time as the committee completes its inquiry and report, it would not be appropriate for DPS to make any public statement on this incident beyond noting that the department does not accept the accuracy of some reports on this matter,” she adds. Even if Mills had all the experience of parliamentary procedure in the world, it would be bizarre to appoint someone with this much baggage.

Forgetful Bercow Trashes Former Clerk

Steve Richards has become the preferred conduit for the Speaker’s spin in the ‘Canberra caterer’ row. Having taken copy, Richard’s regurgitated it for the Guardian:

“In small ways he has attempted to move the buildings closer to the real world. There is even a creche now. Each move is met with resistance. One of the forces of conservatism was the outgoing chief clerk, Sir Robert Rogers, who had worked in the house since 1972. Rogers had an admirable commitment to the Commons in an era when it was more fashionable to view the place with casual contempt, but he resisted most of Bercow’s innovations. To give a small example, when Bercow asked for some of the younger clerks to perform the senior role of sitting in front of him in the Commons, Rogers suggested that such an elevation would be appropriate in another 10 or 15 years. Bercow did not want to wait 15 years.”

The Speaker, and thus Richards, conveniently forget though that almost everything praiseworthy Bercow has done – greater use of Urgent Questions, an increase in Standing Order 24 emergency debates and indeed splitting the role of clerk and chief executive – were all proposed by Mister Whiskers himself. For Bercow to be trashing the reputation of his erstwhile mentor shows just how dirty the cornered Speaker is willing to play.

In Full: The Damning Bercow Appointment Email

The now infamous email from the Clerk of the Australian Senate makes very clear that the issue’s around Bercow’s choice of Clerk is not one of gender, misogyny, anti-modernisation or xenophobia. The question is, can Carol Mills do the job?

CEO of the Commons? Yes. Possibly. Maybe. Hard to say when a rigged panel, a rigged process and a rigged short list produced a result the Speaker had already decided on. But Clerk? A job that is hers until she retires, as Bercow has made clear? The Times leader this morning does not think so.

Here is that email in full:

Dear Robert

We were utterly taken aback here when we saw a brief press report in early July that Carol Mills had emerged as “frontrunner” to take over from you, and have followed events with increasing disbelief and dismay. It seemed to us impossible that someone without parliamentary knowledge and experience could be under consideration for such a role. I do not usually resort to the second person, but there is not a single individual who has mentioned this to me in the past few weeks, from my most junior procedural officers or senior staff here and senators, to my State colleagues, who has not seen this candidacy as an affront to our profession and the professionalism of us all. “Bizarre” is the word most frequently used to describe the situation. I can only imagine what your staff must be thinking.

Continue reading

Tories Very Publicly Break Cover in Speaker RowMP Demands Delay in Appointment of New Clerk

He’s at it again. Tory MP Rob Wilson has written to the Leader of the House, the PM and the Speaker to very publicly blow up the row over the appointment of the new Clerk of the House:

“Media reports suggest, as does the Australian Senate website, that Ms Mill’s Department of Parliamentary Services oversaw the CCTV ‘spying’ on a senior Labor Senator’s office for the purpose of unmasking a whistle-blower and also recorded a Senator’s movements. The Senate Privileges Committee has a significant investigation underway which apparently will report early next year, March 2015.

In these circumstances, how can we possibly appoint a Clerk of the House of Commons who is under investigation for a serious breach of parliamentary privilege? Should we not await the investigation being carried out by the highly respected cross-party Australian Senate Committee?

Likewise, it is reported today that the Speaker (as a compromise to critics) is now considering a split in this historic role. I seriously doubt the merit of this proposal and agree with Sir Robert Rogers when he said: “I can’t think of more than half a dozen chief executive-type decisions that I have had to take over the last three years that haven’t had to be very closely informed by a profound knowledge of the house and what the house will take. So the two roles are inextricably intertwined.” Furthermore it would not overcome the concerns outlined above regarding Senate Committee investigation into Ms Mills.

I therefore urge you and the Prime Minister to use your good offices to find a way to block the appointment of Mrs Mills, at least until such time that matters become clearer. It could prove extremely damaging to both Parliament, and to all concerned with Ms Mills’s appointment to do otherwise.”

The Speaker will take great pleasure in swiftly replying, no doubt.

Speaker Watch: How Bercow Will Spin the Canberra Criticism

An astonishing intervention from the Clerk of the Australian parliament has put a cat – or a tiger – among the pigeons.

The selection of Carol Mills for the £190,000 job of presiding over parliamentary procedure was described by the highest officer in the Australin parliament as bizarre. An affront. An embarrassment.

You need a peculiarly corkscrew vision to see into the Speaker’s ways. His appointment of a chief clerk who knows nothing about clerking is a fine example of his twistiness.

Australian Carol Mills, director of facilities in Canberra parliament, was appointed to the £190,000 job by a panel selected – unprecedentedly – by the Speaker.

The appointment has been gathering controversy over the summer recess for more reasons than one. It’s a power grab. The process was improperly managed. It’s an example of his policy of Diminish and Rule. It’s effectively abolishing the position of Chief Clerk. It has astonished the Commons.

Opposition is gathering on all sides. Labour, Tory, male, female, legal and parliamentary.

But let us look ahead. The Speaker wants to present this row as Tory men opposing any attempt to modernise the House of Commons.

Criticism of Carol Mills will be spun by him as evidence of misogyny and conservative reaction. He wants it to be seen as a battle between Labour women and Tory men.

Yesterday’s story in the Mail on Sunday undermines this cunning plan. The testimony of the clerk of the Australian Senate attacks the appointment on grounds of professionalism and experience.

Clerk Rosemary Laing wrote:

“We were utterly taken aback when we heard Carol Mills was front-runner to replace Sir Robert Rogers and have followed events with disbelief and dismay.

“It seems impossible someone without parliamentary knowledge and experience could be under consideration for such a role. It is bizarre and an affront.”

This is not a battle for female equality. This is a display of the Speaker’s increasingly erratic campaign against his ancestral enemies, the ones who snubbed and snobbed him in his youth.

Leave his pathology to one side.

Has he considered the effect of this appointment on Carol Mills herself?

She will have been lured out of her depth. Tempted out of her circumference. Brought in to operate in an intensely alien environment by the Speaker’s assurances, his guarantees and under his protection.

Australian women have particular qualities of gutsiness, plain speaking and focusing on outcomes, unconstrained by precedent and convention. She may survive this.

But if she fails, she will serve the Speaker’s purposes just as well. Her martyrdom will help the Speaker’s long war against his enemies.

He has destroyed the career of more than one official. And Carol Mills wouldn’t’t be the first woman to be properly damaged by him, either.

Bercow’s £1,300 MP Funeral Bill on Expenses

Guido couldn’t help but feel the taxpayer had been short-changed when he read in today’s Sun that John Bercow claimed £1,300 on expenses to go to Paul Goggins’ funeral. A worthwhile trip perhaps, but could he not have done it cheaper? Guido decided to find out.

The Speaker charged us £45 for a car from parliament to Euston station and £67.50 for the return journey the following day. A quick browse of Guido’s Uber app (other free market-supporting smartphone-friendly cheap car travel services are also available) shows we could do the journey for a tenner each way.

Bercow did much better on his train journey. He billed £239.10 for him and two staffers to get up to Manchester, the standard fare. Though when he got to Manchester, the Speaker inexplicably blew £500 on cars across the city. Since the trip was only meant to be for a church service and then the funeral, Guido struggles to see why he spent so much on taxis. We reckon we’d have spent £50 at the absolute maximum.

Finally, Bercow put himself and his staffers up at the posh Park Inn by Radisson hotel at a cost to the taxpayer of a cool £364. There are plenty of budget hotels well situated in Manchester. Guido chose the Ibis Budget, which would have given us three rooms for £96.

Bercow total: £1,290

Guido total: £405

Every little helps…

Bercow Fails to Clear Up Pass Row at Second Time of Asking

The Speaker has finally replied to Rob Wilson’s detailed questions about the probity of his pass-for-donor arrangement, and once again he is choosing his words very carefully. The question of what access Farah Sassoon has to the parliamentary estate is particularly troublesome for Bercow. He claims that “this pass has restrictions on it which are tailored to the circumstances for which the pass is required and will not activate proximity readers inside the Palace.” As anyone familiar with parliament will know, a free run from an entrance all the way through to Speaker’s House would give the passholder significant access to wider parts of the estate. 

Bercow has now had two opportunities to explain himself, and still he has failed to do so. If Farah Sassoon has no commercial relationship with Sally, why is she going around parliament telling MPs she does? How is it possible for her pass to only grant her access to Speaker’s House and not the wider parliamentary estate? And does he think it is appropriate to award special access to parliament to a woman who is funding his re-election campaign? His evasive answers hardly set an example fitting for the Speaker…

UPDATE: The Telegraph have yet more questions for Bercow:

Speaker’s Choice for Commons Clerk Faces Oz Spying Scandal

Carol Mills, the Speaker’s choice for the new Chief Clerk of the Commons (salary £190,000 pa), has good reason to want an escape route from her current job down under. The Australian parliament’s Department for Parliamentary Services, run by Mills, has just been placed under investigation by the authorities in Oz. Earlier this year Mills confessed that her department may have used CCTV cameras to spy on a whistleblower and a Labor senator. The report into the scandal is due early next year, by which time Mills should have settled in at Westminster…

There’s something fishy about this entire selection process. If the Speaker particularly wanted the job to go to a woman, why did female clerk Phillipa Helm not even get on the long list? Bercow may have thought she didn’t have enough experience to clerk the Commons – but then he arranged the appointment of someone who has no experience of Commons clerking at all.

How did Carol Mills surface? Was she approached directly by the Speaker? There are rumours that the outside candidates were given improper information about their chances. And how will MPs react to a foreign administrative functionary with no experience of the Commons sitting in the Clerk of Clerks chair? If this is reform, the reforming Speaker may find himself increasingly isolated.

Tory MP: This Isn’t About Getting Bercow

Tory MP David Morris, who revealed that Bercow’s financial backer Farah Sassoon posed as a Labour adviser while drinking on the Commons terrace, rejects the Speaker’s paranoid accusations that this is all a mean right-wing plot to get him:

“I think he’s a marvellous Speaker and a great bloke, but I worry about why we have someone purporting to be a Labour aide roaming the estate.

[…] Read the rest

+ READ MORE +



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