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Mr. Straw: That is completely not so, and the right hon. Gentleman knows it. In the small print of his comments, he actually admitted that the primacy of European law was enshrined by section 2(2) of the 1972 Act, and by a number of leading cases involving the European Court of Justice—with which he is very familiar—including Costa v. ENEL, and that of Simmenthal. Such cases established clear primacy.

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What the constitution is doing—it is doing no more than this—is to replicate within the draft treaty what is contained in case law and in section 2(2) of the 1972 Act.

On the right hon. Gentleman's point about repudiating a treaty, under the terms of this treaty the House can of course repudiate a treaty whenever it wants. Under this treaty—not Maastricht, the Single European Act or the treaty of Rome, but this treaty—for the first time explicit provision is made whereby this Parliament can legislate to repudiate a treaty. He needs to understand the consequences of his argument. Is he now saying that European Union law should not have primacy over British law in areas of European legal competence? Let us be clear: if he is saying that, whether he likes it or not Britain would have to withdraw from the European Union, because it would be impossible for any British Government to operate within the European Union.

The fact is that all international treaties take primacy over national laws—the system of international law could not function otherwise. For example, how could the European Union single market—a creation of the Conservative party when it had a bit of sense—work if each member state could take its own decisions on the rules of the game, regardless of the rules to which it had already signed up? How could we guarantee British business a level playing field if other member states had the right to erect national tariff and non-tariff barriers, without any redress for British business? That is the natural consequence of what the right hon. Member for Devizes is suggesting.

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills): British statute takes precedence over treaties. That is established in our own courts and asserted by them. Where there is an explicit declaration by the House and Parliament through statute, it takes precedence over treaties, which are based on merely prerogative power.

Mr. Straw: I am sorry to disabuse the hon. Gentleman, but that is simply not true.

Mr. Shepherd: It is what is important.

Mr. Straw: If the hon. Gentleman reads the leading case of Shah and Islam, which is connected with the interpretation of the UN convention on refugees of 1951, he will see the argument set out in every detail. It provides a clear exposition of the fact that, when a country signs up to an international treaty, that treaty takes precedence over national law, as long as a national Parliament decides to remain a member of the treaty organisation. Conservative Front Benchers simply misunderstand the point and I am waiting for the right hon. Member for Devizes to answer my question about whether the Conservatives are now asserting—

Mr. Cash rose—

Mr. Straw: I shall give way to the organ grinder in a moment.

Is the right hon. Member for Devizes asserting that, if the Conservatives were in government, they would not accept the primacy of European law in respect of European competences?

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Mr. Cash: The Foreign Secretary has to answer the question that he posed. What is the purpose of implementation of a treaty through an Act of Parliament if it is not, in the European context, to turn European treaties into domestic law?

Mr. Straw: The purpose of the Act of Parliament through which we joined the European Union was to say—with respect to the 1972 Act—that all future legal decisions of the European Union—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) needs to listen to what I am saying. All future enactments were given legal effect and recognised accordingly without further enactment by the House. [Interruption.] I find the degree of ignorance exhibited by Conservative Front Benchers astonishing.

Mr. Cash: Let us examine what appears in the Foreign Secretary's own White Paper. Paragraph 104 states:

How does the Foreign Secretary answer that?

Mr. Straw: The hon. Gentleman is confused, and I am not surprised that the Conservatives are in such a mess when they lack even a basic understanding. An initial Act of Parliament ratifies a treaty. That happened in the accession treaty of 1972, in the Single European Act, the Maastricht, Nice and Amsterdam treaties, and it will happen again if we recommend the current draft EU constitution.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory rose—

Mr. Straw: No, I will not give way.

Under various Acts, and particularly the European Communities Act 1972, we accepted the primacy of European Union law. I note that the right hon. Member for Devizes has still not explained the Conservative position. He made a point about primacy, so is he saying that the Conservative party is now opposed to the position that it has supported for 30 years—the primacy of the EU in respect of EU law? Is that the right hon. Gentleman's point? He has no answer.

Several hon. Members rose—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. It is evident that the Foreign Secretary is not giving way.

Mr. Straw: Let me return to another issue raised by the right hon. Member for Devizes—[Interruption.]

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: Article 10 is not just about the primacy of EU law, but the primacy of the constitution. The right hon. Gentleman cannot pretend that the problem is inherited from a previous treaty, because we have not hitherto—before what is currently proposed—had a constitution. How does the Foreign Secretary square the expressed and asserted primacy of the constitution over member state law with the supremacy of the House?

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Mr. Straw: It is because it is inherent in our membership of the European Union. I gather that the right hon. Gentleman wishes to withdraw from membership, and that is a natural consequence of the petition being advanced by many Opposition Members. I square my position by going back to the central issue of our membership of international organisations. The House decided—

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: But this is a constitution.

Mr. Straw: The constitution is no more than a treaty labelled "constitution". It is a treaty that we shall ratify in the same way as any other treaty.

Mr. Richard Bacon (South Norfolk): Will the Foreign Secretary give way?

Mr. Straw: No, I am answering the point made by the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory).

This House, along with the other place, decides to enact legislation through which we join an international organisation. In doing so, we accept key obligations for as long as we remain in membership. If we decide to withdraw, by statute, we withdraw from those obligations. While we are members of the organisation, we accept the obligations.

Sir Teddy Taylor: Will the Foreign Secretary give way?

Mr. Straw: No, I will not give way because others wish to speak in this debate.

Another of the Opposition's invented concerns relates to the alleged extent of the Union's common foreign and security policy. Last week, the hon. Member for Stone thought that he had discovered the Achilles heel of the Government's case, when he alighted on a reference in the draft treaty, in article 15.2, that calls on member states "actively and unreservedly" to support the Union's common foreign and security policy and

When he confronted me with that during a hearing before the European Scrutiny Committee on Wednesday, I suggested that he reacquaint himself with the language that his party had signed up to at Maastricht. The then Government agreed that:

The former Government also agreed to

In article 15 of the same treaty, member states agreed that they would

There is nothing new in the text on the common foreign and security policy that was not in the Maastricht treaty.

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Indeed, as Lord Howe pointed out in a debate in the other place last week, the original proposition that members of the European Union should

was a British product. Lord Howe said that it was

Baroness Thatcher also said later that year that it is

That is the principle behind the common foreign and security policy and I fail to understand why the right hon. Member for Devizes and his party now object to it.

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