The European Communities Act 1972

Here’s a further abstract of one the forthcoming publications listed in my earlier post.  This is for my article on the passage of the European Communities Act 1972.  It is appearing in the special issue of Parliamentary History that I am editing on a century of constitutional change.  Each article looks at the reasons for the introdution of the measure, its passage through Parliament, and its effect.

European Communities Act 1972

UK membership of the European Communities (EC) was prompted by economic and political factors. It represented a novel constitutional departure; one that was contested. The proposal for membership created divisions between, and within, both main parties. Although both Houses voted overwhelmingly in support of the principle of the membership, the short bill to give legal effect in UK law to membership was bitterly contested, the government achieving the second reading of the bill through a vote of confidence. The bill was opposed consistently by the Labour opposition and dissident Conservative back benchers, though passage of the bill was achieved eventually, courtesy of Liberals and some abstaining Labour MPs, and without amendment. The act enabled the United Kingdom to become a member of the EC, with important consequences for the UK constitution, including creating a juridical dimension unparalleled since before the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Parliament has provided for its own legislation to be subordinate to that of the EC, while adapting to the new situation through the creation of committees to scrutinise European documents.

About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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5 Responses to The European Communities Act 1972

  1. ladytizzy says:

    Would it have made any difference to the mood of parliament if the UK had been accepted to join the EEC in the 60’s?

    • Lord Norton says:

      ladytizzy: A motion approving the Government’s decision to apply for membership was put to the House of Commons on 2-3 August 1961 and was carried by 313 votes to 5. The Labour Opposition abstained from voting. Over 20 Conservative MPs abstained from voting. (A Labour amendment, contending that the Government was negotiating from a position of weakness, was defeated on a straight party vote by 318 votes to 209, though over 20 Conservatives abstained.) Had the negotiations made progress, I suspect dissent would have become much greater.

  2. Carl.H says:

    I think the Committees need to scrutinise the accounts a bit more.

    “The European Court of Auditors was established in 1975, and audits the accounts of EU institutions.
    In its most recent report it has found that over a third of the €35.5bn allocated by the EU for regional funding was affected by errors, either unintentional or possibly fraud. ”

  3. Chris K says:

    Some idealistic voters of the day, like my Dad, bitterly regret voting “yes” in the 1975 referendum on the EC.

    I don’t hold a grudge. Even the great Lady Thatcher was taken in at the time, and I suspect I would have been too.

    It angers me immensely that our Parliament, which is accountable to us, is now subordinate to a body which is not in any way. The direction of the EU project remains unchanged regardless of how we vote, and that is a travesty of democracy.

    When do those of us younger than 53 get our say?

    • djb13 says:

      The EU is fairly accountable to us. We elect the Parliament, which can reject the Commission. We elect the Council which sets the agenda and chooses the Commission. Both the Parliament and the Council have to pass a law, the Council by QMV. The problem is that we don’t pay enough attention – if the party blocs ran on manifestoes and delivered on them, there are plenty of mechanisms to keep the EU accountable.

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