Of course the Lib Dems oppose exposing our NHS in future trade deals

If you’re seeing attacks from Labour types on social media tonight, saying that we didn’t vote for their amendment which, amongst other things, called for the NHS to be protected in future trade deals, ignore them.

Political parties often do this. It’s a silly game and I don’t like it when we do it, either.

It goes like this.

You lay down an amendment that has a bit of good stuff in it, and you combine it with something that another party just isn’t going to go for. Then when they don’t vote for your amendment you go after them on social media.

Today Labour’s amendment read as follows;

At end add ‘but respectfully regrets that the Gracious Speech does not repeal the Health and Social Care Act 2012 to restore a publicly provided and administered National Health Service and protect it from future trade agreements that would allow private companies competing for services who put profit before public health and that could restrict policy decisions taken in the public interest.’

Now I know that many, including me, in this party had concerns about the reforms in the 2012 Act. But there was some good stuff in there, on social care and on mental health, both issues very important to us. So even if we think that the Act isn’t perfect, we would go with amending rather than appealing it.

So we didn’t vote for the amendment.We didn’t vote against it either. We abstained.  However, we have good form on the NHS and trade deals.  For a start, we have on very many occasions challenged the government on exactly this point. We do not want to see the NHS undermined by Donald Trump, thank you very much. Vince Cable used to challenge the government on this all the time. Look at this from February last year:

The Prime Minister’s non-answer to my question today can only infer that our NHS is indeed for sale under the Conservatives.

Her pathetic non-committal response, failing to even mention our health service once, stands in stark contrast to guarantees given in 2015 by the EU trade negotiator with the US during the TTIP negotiations that our NHS would be protected.

Unfortunately Brexit Britain, standing on our own, will be in a far weaker negotiating position.


Ed Davey said here that “we must make sure that the NHS is not up for grabs in any trade deal.”

Jo Swinson also talked about the danger to the NHS during the leadership campaign in an interview with the Standard. 

At the time of the Brexit vote we had Obama. Now the world is much more unstable. There’s the rise of China, Putin, strong men leaders — do you want to be at the mercy of these superpowers? They aren’t going to be giving us great terms on a trade deal; there’s chlorinated chicken, the NHS is on the table. Frankly that is a cause for concern.

We need to be a wee bit careful when we are under social media attack from Labour or (or SNP types for that matter). We can be inclined to think they must somehow be right – when in fact the trolls are at best grossly misrepresenting the facts.  It is hardly surprising that Labour want to throw some mud to deflect attention from the fact that their MPs helped get the awful Withdrawal Agreement Bill over its first parliamentary hurdle last night.

They want to detract attention from the fact that Labour is moving towards an election rather than a People’s Vote.

They want to throw a dead cat on the table to distract attention from the fact that Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn met today to discuss how Labour could help back another programme motion that would ultimately foist Brexit on an unwilling public.

So don’t fall for it.

If we don’t vote for opposition motions, there is usually a good reason for it.

UPDATE to add two things.

First of all, to highlight a policy paper passed just last month at Conference which talks about our health and social care policy and why it is so vital to stop Brexit – something that the Labour leadership has been lukewarm on, to say the least.

To guarantee continued access to medicines and treatments, to reverse the loss of key staff, to create the economic conditions in which Health and Social Care services can be properly funded, and to prevent the NHS being sacrificed on the altar of international trade negotiations, Liberal Democrats will:

  • Save the NHS and Social Care by Stopping Brexit.
  • End the waste of public money on no-deal Brexit preparations by stopping Brexit.

Read the Executive summary to get a flavour of all aspects of our health policy from mental health to social care.

Lib Dem MP Dr Sarah Wollaston, a GP herself, has some words of advice for Labour on health.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • We need to make Health and Social Care a major campaign. We have a problem with the over prescription of drugs. But people feel reassured when they go to the doctor if given a drug. The challenge is to make the NHS a genuine health service. And to not treat poverty with money for the poor people not with treatment for depression for people who need support to get on with their lives.
    A good starting point would be to find ways of genuine support for young people who have been looked after by local authorities. Many of them end in prison. The same applies to young people who have been found to have special educational needs.

  • As one of the many perturbed by the Lib Dem abstention last night, and following the predictable onslaught after the event, I came online to search for the reasons behind the party’s decision. I can’t find anything substantial anywhere.
    This page is the first to come up on a search, yet still offers only vague platitudes. “There was some good stuff in there, on social care and on mental health” for example, is not good enough.
    I became a member of the Lib Dems partly because of their solid stance on the NHS, and I know I’m not alone in that sentiment, so this is a worrying episode in desperate need of clarity.
    This is an official Lib Dem site, top of the search results, and needs to provide answers in this critical moment. Someone, somewhere in the party needs to explain clearly, loudly, and quickly.

  • This article does not convince me. In fact it’s worrying. By all means defend LD position by using the words and deeds of previous times but you are only as good as your last trick. Nowhere do I see a rigorous explanation of the abstention. Only ‘there was some good stuff ………..on social care and on mental health’ Is this a good enough reason to ignore the amendment? I want to support your party so Enlighten me please.

  • Andrew Cook 24th Oct '19 - 7:46am

    We’re shooting ourselves in the foot… I saw plenty of Tweets on this from Labour but I can’t find anything from us saying why we didn’t support the vote.

  • Great and much needed explanation. We need this info up front by the party so we are ready to explain what happened to non Labour people that have concerns.

  • One of my least favourite things about political activism is when they claim that a particular vote for/against something that covers a wide range of things means that the politician supports/opposes something specific. Unfortunately, most of us can’t possibly keep up with the entire consequences of each vote, so it’s difficult to form a view at the time, and near impossible to have an informed view when old votes are brought up as “proof” of something or another.

    And that applies when we do it too. Sometimes it’s supposedly justified on the grounds of forcing others to admit that it’s a bit more complicated than that, but most of the time it’s cheap politics that muddies the water and erodes trust in politicians.

  • And as much as it’s tempting to blame those who use these tricks, it also reveals how easily some people will believe that we are OK with privatising the NHS.

    Some of that can be blamed on those doing smearing, or those who will always believe that supporters of other parties really are heartless, but it also highlights an area where we’ve failed to be heard and where we must work harder.

  • Graham Evans 24th Oct '19 - 8:27am

    I think the Chief Whip did issue a statement explaining the reasons. I’ve read a screen shot but does anyone have a direct link?

  • Alan Ashurst 24th Oct '19 - 8:54am

    Caron, not sure that your past performance can be taken as a reliable guide to future actions. Any potential “improvements” are meaningless unless the NHS is safe from predation by US health companies. You don’t need me to remind you that your brand was massively tainted by your coalition with the Tories. It may well be that Labour are playing tricks, but that doesn’t mean that they are always wrong.

  • Chris Smowton 24th Oct '19 - 8:55am

    “trolls are at best grossly misrepresenting the facts” is off the mark I think. Labour central says “we raised a motion to oppose privatisation of the NHS; the Lib Dems didn’t vote for it” (true), then people reasonably misinterpret that as a *binding* motion and describe it as real practical action that was forestalled. No trolling or wilful misrepresentation is needed apart from Labour HQ’s lie of omission, that they don’t exactly make it clear it was just a motion of regret.

  • The Health and Social Care Act was a development of the marketisation model of health care supported by Blair,Milburn Lansley, the Tories and some misguided Orange Bookers. This was pointed out at tedious length by the likes of Andrew George and myself at the time to a largely unlistening parliamentary party. Only a revolt at grassroots level in the party stopped it from being worse than it was. Ironically even most sane Tories now regard it as a text book example of disruptively, pointless legislative stupidity. Sadly even the likes of Sarah Wollaston did not recognise it at the time. Don’t though let’s try to defend it. It was an error- naivete in coalition- move on.

  • James Healy 24th Oct '19 - 9:57am

    A ridiculous attempt at a get-out, should have voted with Labour.

  • I agree with many comments that say there is no good answer as to why the alternative Lib Dem’s have not supported the repeal of the 2012 Act.
    I believe the NHS should be kept out of PARTY politics but that govt should take responsibility and there should be no room for conflict of interest. As an NHS worker you sign so many things to confirm ‘no conflict of interest’ and yet politicians don’t seem to have any such responsibilities at all.
    I’m disgusted with any UK politicians who are not supportive of an NHS for all and to support it in any way we all can.
    People talk about the system being abused and it is because there are too many managers and people with ‘new’ ideas who don’t have a clue how it really works
    Please make some decisions for the right reasons and not just because it sounds good or new or individuals will benefit. Support the patients and the workers and stop the continual criticisms. It’s the politicians and managers etc who need to be more accountable.

  • Annie Watson 24th Oct '19 - 10:30am

    Reassured more by the comments posted than by the original article, which as others have said, lacks substance and detail. Just like the Lib Dems themselves. Here in Sheffield Hallam we will not forget the damage that Nick Clegg did to the party’s reputation.

  • As Geoff Payne says, we have been shown up for being concerned only about Brexit. The NHS&Social Care Act 2012 needs amending, NOT repealing.
    Hence our abstention was justified. A great pity we did not put forward our own amendment to make clear our opposition to involvement of private companies in any trade deal. It would also have been an opportunity to call for amendment to the 2012 Act, in order to further restrict the use of private companies in NHS services.

  • Bjorn Schmolck 24th Oct '19 - 10:57am

    It would be really useful if we could get more concise information on how to counter the Labour (smear) campaign against the LibDem’s position on this specific vote (NHS/Queen’s speech). Caron’s note helped a bit but was also a bit complicated! NHS is a big theme for voters, and LibDems need to counter stronlgy being painted as anti-NHS.

  • Further to my previous comment, can we not attack Labour’s approach which leads to a heavily centralised bureaucratic inefficient huge managerial tick-box system that does not respond to local needs and leads to cases like that of Stafford Hospital ?

  • @ Our former Lib Dem MP John Pugh has said it all about the history – as do the majority of the posts on here. No amount of honeyed words about “good stuff” on social care and mental health can disguise this. As a former elected Convenor of Social care married to a former Director of Social Work I’d like to know what the “good stuff” amounted to because it certainly passed our notice.

    I’m afraid failing to vote for the amendment was extremely naive, a missed opportunity to rebuild some of the self inflicted damage from 2012, and it has opened up justified criticism and reawakened old fear about the direction of the party yet again.

  • Frank Beanland 24th Oct '19 - 11:34am

    I was in the NHS when the HSCA 2012 was being introduced and there was massive upheaval that set the NHS back a few years from doing real, impactful work. We’ve seen private providers take contracts and perform badly. I’m not a fan. However over time Trusts and CCGs have got used to working under the act and have improved processes. It is not a massive issue any longer and unravelling to how it was before would be costly and disruptive. The major issue for NHS now is the funding shortfall.

  • David Evershed 24th Oct '19 - 11:58am

    We should not forget that most drugs and medicines used in the NHS are discovered and provided by private companies, as is the equipment. Also most GP surgeries are private businesses.

    Whilst health care is provided free at the point of delivery, there should be no ideological objection to it being provided by private businesses.

  • John Marriott 24th Oct '19 - 12:36pm

    ‘Our’ NHS? Well, there are times when, as far as my family is concerned, it’s hardly OUR NHS! I refer here specifically to GP services. As far as our local hospital is concerned, those of us who have had treatment in the past few years, myself included, cannot speak highly enough. The problem with the NHS is not necessarily money, but rather staffing.

    I can only assume that this has had a particular impact on GP services. I’ll just offer one example of allowing a degree of autonomy to what for many people used to be considered the front line of health services. The ONLY way to get a routine, less urgent, appointment with our local practice is to phone, which usually ends up with being placed in a queue. Try turning up in person to make an appointment and you will be told that it cannot be done this way, even if this appointment is not urgent. Thank goodness I haven’t needed an urgent appointment, because, even if I had got through, I would probably have been told to rock up to A and E.

    Now, it might be one of the idiosyncrasies of our GP practice; but it seems bonkers to me and totally unnecessary. What we need is a bit of common sense. Let’s train a few more of our own people, pay for this training provided that they agreed to work for at least four years after qualification within the NHS. Perhaps we wouldn’t need to poach so many doctors and nurses from countries that have trained them and probably would like to retain their services; but cannot complete with the blandishments that we are preferred to offer.

  • Could you outline what you disagreed with in the proposed Labour motion?

    I am a ‘Labour type’ wondering what you are planning on doing to protect the NHS.

  • @David Evershed

    “Whilst health care is provided free at the point of delivery, there should be no ideological objection to it being provided by private businesses.”

    I would have to disagree with that.
    Look at the state of some of the Nursing homes and especially at the Vulnerable adult care homes like Whorlton Hall Privately run hospital and the abuses that took place on some of the countries most vulnerable adults with mental disabilities. That sort of abuse culture would never take place in a NHS run hospital.

    It is precisely for this reason that I am against privatising these kind of services within the NHS
    And whilst I am on my little rant, I think anyone working as a carer with vulnerable adults should have to go through vigorous training and be on a register

  • Paul Marten 24th Oct '19 - 1:18pm

    I’d say, putting myself in the shoes of a left of centre wavering voter, that this is a massive own goal for the Dems.
    It would have cost you nothing to support the motion and would have helped removed some the stains from the coalition period on the brand.
    All you have done is hand Labour a thermonuclear attack line which will be very hard to counter now.
    If any of you have seen what’s doing the rounds on Social Media today you will realise the damage has been done.

  • Julian Wells 24th Oct '19 - 1:36pm

    Ms Lindsay: “the trolls are at best grossly misrepresenting the facts”.

    Also Ms Lindsay: “Labour want to throw some mud to deflect attention from the fact that their MPs helped get the awful Withdrawal Agreement Bill over its first parliamentary hurdle last night”.

    Fact: A small minority of right-wing Labour MPs (who usually misuse their time undermining Jeremy Corbyn) voted for the WAB contrary to their Party’s whip.

    Comment: Though I disagree with the following, there’s a reasonable case to made that a debate on the Bill allows amendments to be put that expose the nature of what the Tory Brexiteers are up to.

    Question: Will the LIbDems be supporting the amendments that I expect Labour to be tabling?

  • Sue Sutherland 24th Oct '19 - 2:34pm

    Of course we will protect the NHS but in some cases like the development of drugs it may well be better to rely on the private sector. We also need to examine the privatisation which has already happened to see if it has created excess cost to the NHS or resulted in a worse service for patients. I don’t see how Labour’s amendment would have enabled this to happen.
    However, there were a great many worried members on various Lib Dem groups asking why this had happened. This is one of the difficulties of our party having expanded so rapidly and needs to be addressed so there is a members’ site which is easily accessed for this sort of question.
    Members were genuinely concerned that they didn’t have an answer to Labour’s accusations. Unfortunately there are far more Labour members than Lib Dems so we need to be prepared with answers before the accusations start to flow. Members who are new to politics aren’t used to being attacked in this way. Labour are in a mess so it’s obvious they will seek to attack us over the NHS which is their port of call when they have nothing else to offer.
    There seems to be a problem as a whole with members being unable to navigate their way about the party when trying to get information about how we work, what different groups there are and what our policies are. This must be sorted out to enable members to fight our corner.

  • Ninian Peckitt 24th Oct '19 - 2:46pm

    You cannot run a Public Service as an effective business. The reasons are discussed in the paper below.


  • Sue Sutherland 24th Oct ’19 – 2:34pm… Lots of excuses but no answers.

    Yesterday, in this article, Caron wrote, “If we don’t vote for opposition motions, there is usually a good reason for it.”….

    By now I’d imagine a whole raft of reasons on this thread; did I miss them?

  • Paul Barker 24th Oct '19 - 3:33pm

    If we are remotely serious about becoming a Party that leads Governments then we have to grow thicker skins, we have to get used to other Parties (& Labour in particular) lying about us, we just need to respond calmly as Caron did & move on.
    If we are going to acheive “Take-Off” in the coming Election then we will have to start regularly Polling more than Labour at some point; how do you imagine they will react to that ? We have to expect a Tsunami of abuse & smears.

  • Richard Easter 24th Oct '19 - 3:43pm

    By not voting for the amendment, the Lib Dems put themselves firmly in the pro-market privatisation camp in the eyes of many voters they need to convince. Market economics in public services is not popular across the board (even UKIP – Carswell and Reckless voted for a Labour amendment to exempt the NHS from TTIP).

    This will simply reinforce the view that “Swinson = Yellow Tory” and the party is captured by “Orange Bookers”. The argument that the vote wouldn’t have passed anyway is hardly relevant, it is about being seen to do the right thing. A People’s Vote march won’t reverse Brexit, but supporting it is symbolic. Ditto snubbing the Saudis visiting.

  • @Caron Lindsay
    I am neither a Labour nor an SNP “type”, thanks; but if you cannot understand how unnecessary it was for the LibDems to abstain on this amendment because of the consequences which have inevitably led Jo Swinson’s failed attempt to get Labour’s support for her own ‘People’s Vote’, I kind of despair of (if nothing else) your lack of political acumen.

  • David parkinson 24th Oct '19 - 4:36pm

    What good is it, abstaining from everything and letting the Conservatives win? Ok there might be something in the proposed amendment you’re not keen on, but in the big scheme of things, so what? Stop sittimg om the fence, if you dont like it at least vote against it properly, all the abstentions are pathetic sorry

  • David Allen 24th Oct '19 - 4:51pm

    Caron Lindsay probably won’t believe it’s me saying this, but:

    The Labour amendment “regrets that the Gracious Speech does not repeal the Health and Social Care Act 2012”. Now, famously the Lib Dems in Coalition voted for that dreadful Act. Nigel Jones above gives the view that the Act should be amended, not repealed – and that, I take it, is in line with our official policy.

    So – On that basis, the Labour amendment was an elephant trap. Voting for the amendment would have been hailed by Labour as a massive Lib Dem policy reversal. Cue another round of stirring from Labour about the evil Coalition, the Lib Dems facing both ways, etcetera.

    I hate tribalism and trickery by the Lib Dems. I hate it when Labour do it, too.

  • Privatisation of the NHS ? A number of years ago it was my privilege to know a wonderful family which included two young daughters. Sadly the girls suffered from cystic fibrosis. They were great vibrant youngsters and could brighten the darkest day. Somehow they got to young adulthood – but sadly both are now gone.

    I was delighted today when I heard that a life-extending drug (Orkambi) for cystic fibrosis will be available on the NHS in England because a deal has been reached with the American Vertex Pharmaceuticals Orkambi manufacturers after months of talks. It should be available within 30 days. The drug improves lung function, reduces breathing difficulties and can be given to children as young as two.

    The good news was tempered when I heard that the American firm wanted to charge £100,000 per patient per year- though a compromise has been reached in a confidential deal.

    I’m no expert on the economics of pharmaceuticals and its a complicated business, but I question, why drug manufacturers should extort such huge profits for their products ? Is there no way our NHS can produce generic drugs within this country ? This will particularly apply post Brexit.

    Is it an issue where the party could set up an expert advisory policy panel ? I remember back in the sixties the Union of Liberal Students (including a young Tony Greaves) discussed the nationalisation of the pharmaceutical industry. Is it time to look at this again ? ‘People before profit’s is what the Party should be about.

  • It is both the Lib Dems and Labour continuing to play tribal politics. I really wish that Corbyn and Swinson would both grow up and, if only for a few weeks, co-operate for the greater good. And please, no “but they started it”…

  • Paul Barker 24th Oct '19 - 6:34pm

    One of the reasons Parties pull this kind of stunt is precisely so that their opponents have to devote Time, Energy & Money responding. We are not in an equal fight with Labour, they currently have around 4 times as many members as us, employ about 7 times as many full-time Staff as us & have an income 10 times as high as ours. They can afford to waste 10% of their money attacking us while we cant spend 100% of our money to respond.

  • The Lib Dems were going to take stick from Labour quarters over this whatever. If we back a motion regretting that a bill wasn’t repealed that was introduced in coalition, then we would have been branded hypocrites.

    Sadly, we can expect more of this from Labour, some of whom spend far more time attacking us than they do the Tories.

  • Labour only have left the ” Yellow Tory” stick. The sad thing is it might discourage people from voting Lib Dem but it doesn’t actually help them, if it helps anyone it is the Tories. In the scheme of things their antics are small beer the more important news is

    Most voters believe violence against MPs ‘is price worth paying’ over Brexit
    Despite leave voters’ conviction that Brexit should be delivered at all costs, over half of people throughout all three countries thought that the nation would become substantially poorer as a result of Brexit.

    However, a huge number of those who voted leave in the EU referendum believed that economic losses would be worth it – 76% in England and Scotland and 81% in Wales.

    Similarly, voters overwhelmingly felt that the potential destruction of the country’s farming and fishing industries would be a price worth paying for getting the result they wanted in the Brexit negotiations.


    That is the level of stupidity Brexit has brought us. The bickering of Labour and the Lib Dems reminds me of the Jews fighting each other as Vespasian marched on Jerusalem, in the end he crushed them all and the Tories will do the same if people can’t work out who the real threat is.

  • Graham Evans 24th Oct '19 - 10:01pm

    @ David Raw Pharmaceutical companies spend vast sums of money trying to develop new drugs to treat disease but most of this money is wasted as at some stage in the development process the overwhelming majority of putative drugs fail, either because they are not effective, or because they are no more effective than existing drugs, or because the side effects are too severe. Pharmaceutical companies make their profits from the very small number of drugs that do successfully get through a long and extensive testing regime. Moreover, the more limited the market for the drug, the higher the price has to be for a company to start even investigating a new treatment.

    There is nothing to prevent setting up a state manufacturing facility for generics, but these are drugs which will have been in use often for many years during the lifetime of the patent. By definition a generic isn’t a new drug. However, even in the case of generics there is an issue of what toxicology and other tests should be undertaken by the generic manufacturer to ensure that the generic product is clinically comparable to the earlier patented version. There still remains the issue of whether the generics manufacturer will be paid a price to justify the capital costs of setting up a manufacturing facility.

    Lastly of course the pharmaceutical industry is transnational new drugs are subject to international patents. The whole essence of patent law is to ensure the inventor gets a return on the investment in return for publishing details of the invention, including its manufacture. Without this protection there would be no private investment in discovery new drugs.

  • Maybe we should have agreed instead of laying ourselves open to these attacks. We are stronger in the polls than ever before and we do this.

  • Indrajit Chatterjee 25th Oct '19 - 11:34am

    Having worked in the NHS and the private sector a number of years ago, I have a perspective on the advantages and pitfalls of both systems.
    Politically I almost returned my membership of this party. Yes, I am angry at the Bristolian attitude of “yes but, no but, yer” on this amendment by the party.
    We must protect the NHS from the foreign private sharks.
    We have failed to look at the NHS as a business. We could sell our services and use the funds to support our on going operations.
    PFI is a rotten scam as bad as the US scam to rape our pension funds with their poor bets (derivatives) on their mortgage markets.
    Please don’t fall into the same traps. Business is about the bottom line and does not have an ethic. Unless you call greed an ethical mantra worth pursuing.
    Care, health and social care are basic needs of society. They are not there to be profited from when paid by NI contributions of every tax payer.
    Hospitals and GP surgeries owned by PFI’s make huge profits without any risk? The PFI charges rent, is NOT responsible for any upkeep and all maintenance is to be paid for by the tax payer.
    That’s a monopoly not a business.
    So privatisation is not a sufficient argument ethically is not supporting this amendment.
    It’s a sad week.

  • Nigel Quinton 25th Oct '19 - 12:40pm

    Its a ‘damned if you do and damned if you don’t’, but the key to managing this must be in getting our message out sooner and clearer.

    I almost left the party over the 2012 act, it should never have been allowed to proceed. But we are where we are, and as others have stated, repeal gets us nowhere – what we need is sensible reform and adequate funding. The former is being achieved (by the NHS itself through the ten year plan and the STPs (in our area we are lucky to have Paul Burstow as the chair, I know others are less fortunate) and the area we need to focus on as a party is the integration with social care and especially the funding of social care. We have to end the scandal of dementia being treated differently to cancer when it comes to funding care. And we have to do more on mental health, particularly for young people.

  • More problems from the coalition years…Regarding the alarming fall in child vaccination rates,,,,
    One significant factor identified by auditors was the Conservative former health secretary Andrew Lansley’s 2013 reorganisation of the NHS, auditors said.
    “There is evidence that the 2013 health system reorganisation in England resulted in fragmentation in the way the vaccination programme has been delivered,” the report concludes…….

  • Mark Pius Charlton 26th Oct '19 - 1:04pm

    Why hace we not seen a video on social media explaining CLEARLY why the party abstained….we are only as popular as the last tweet which is a crying shame but shows the level of education of the country as a whole ……in truth the Labour party is winning this tweet war ……come out now and make a clear statement and explain what was the reason behind this decision

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