|Act of Parliament|
|Long title||An Act to make provision in connection with the enlargement of the European Communities to include the United Kingdom, together with (for certain purposes) the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man and Gibraltar.|
|Citation||1972 c. 68|
|Introduced by||Geoffrey Rippon, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster|
|Territorial extent||United Kingdom
(England and Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland)
Indirectly also affects (not part of the territorial extent):
The Isle of Man
[The Bailiwick of] Jersey
The Bailiwick of Guernsey
|Royal assent||17 October 1972|
|Commencement||17 October 1972
(partly in force)
1 January 1973
(wholly in force)
|Relates to||European Communities (Amendment) Act 1986
European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993
European Economic Area Act 1993
European Communities (Amendment) Act 1998
European Communities (Amendment) Act 2002
European Union (Amendment) Act 2008
European Union Act 2011
|Text of statute as originally enacted|
|Revised text of statute as amended|
|Part of a series of articles on the|
|Treaty of Union||1706|
|Acts of Union||1707|
|Personal Union of 1714||1714|
|Wales and Berwick Act||1746|
|Acts of Union||1800|
|Government of Ireland Act||1920|
|Royal and Parliamentary Titles Act||1927|
|N. Ireland (Temporary Provisions) Act||1972|
|European Communities Act||1972|
|Local Government Act||1972|
|Local Government (Scotland) Act||1973|
|Northern Ireland Assembly||1973|
|N. Ireland Constitution Act||1973|
|Local Government (Wales) Act||1994|
|Local Government etc. (Scotland) Act||1994|
|Referendums (Scotland & Wales) Act||1997|
|Good Friday Agreement||1998|
|Northern Ireland Act||1998|
|Government of Wales Act||1998|
|Government of Wales Act||2006|
|Northern Ireland Act||2009|
|European Union Act||2011|
|European Union Referendum Act||2015|
|This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
The European Communities Act 1972 (c. 68) is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom which legislated for the accession of the United Kingdom to the European Communities (EC) – the collective term for the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), the European Economic Community (EEC) (also known at the time as the "Common Market") and the European Atomic Energy Community (EAEC) (also known as Euratom) – through the Treaty of Accession which was signed by then Conservative Prime Minister Edward Heath and the then President of the European Commission Franco Maria Malfatti on 22 January 1972 in Brussels. All three of these institutions would later form part of what is now known as the European Union.
The act also legislated for the incorporation of European Union law (then Community law) along with the jurisdiction and judgements from the European Court of Justice into the domestic law of the United Kingdom, and is binding on all legislation passed by the devolved administrations in the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Scottish Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales. It was the most significant Act of Parliament to be passed by the Heath government of 1970-74 and is one of the most significant constitutional pieces of legislation ever passed by the Parliament of the United Kingdom.
The act is significantly amended from its original form as it also incorporates through amending Acts of Parliament the Single European Act, the Maastricht Treaty which formed the European Union, the Amsterdam Treaty, the Nice Treaty, and most recently the Treaty of Lisbon, into the domestic law of the United Kingdom.
On 28 October 1971, after a year of negotiations between the UK Government led by the Conservative Prime Minister Edward Heath, the European Communities and various European leaders (particularly the French President Georges Pompidou), Members of Parliament after six days of debate in the House of Commons voted 356-244, a majority of 112 in favour of the principle of the United Kingdom becoming a member state of the European Communities (the Common Market) on the terms which had been provisionally agreed. This led to Edward Heath signing the Treaty of Accession in Brussels on behalf of the United Kingdom on 22 January 1972, with the treaty having full legal effect from 1 January 1973.
For the Treaty to have full legal effect upon entry into the Communities on 1 January 1973, and for the United Kingdom to incorporate the European Institutions and the laws of the Communities, a subsequent Act of Parliament was required to give this effect and on January 25 – three days after the signing of the Treaty – a European Communities Bill was presented to the House of Commons by Geoffrey Rippon for its first reading. The Bill itself contained just 12 clauses and was criticised by some in the opposition who had initially demanded a one thousand clause Bill at the time as it would be much harder to amend.
On 17 February 1972, the House of Commons voted narrowly by 309-301 in favour of the Bill at its second reading after three days of intense debate. Just before the vote the Prime Minister Edward Heath argued his case in the debate with the following words.
|“||The right hon. Gentleman was allowed to deliver a long speech this afternoon as he wished, and I am not going to be interrupted by him now. I believe that our friends would find it incomprehensible if we were to tear up the agreement—the very agreement we have struggled for more than a decade to achieve. For years to come they would understandably ask whether any trust could be placed in Britain's rôle in any future international agreements. Our influence in world monetary and trade discussions would be destroyed. These questions would be settled by the United States, the European Community and Japan. The Community would not be broken up if we were to defect. It would suffer a bitter shock but it would survive and go on. But Britain would not benefit from the progress it was making.
I have dealt with many of the major issues raised in the debate. I will deal now in particular with one matter. As the House knows, I have always believed that our prosperity and our influence in the world would benefit from membership. I believed until recently that we could carry on fairly well outside, but I believe now that with developments in world affairs, and the speed at which they are moving, it will become more and more difficult for Britain alone. Faced with this prospect of change, I do not believe that any Prime Minister could come to this House and say, "We have secured the chance to join the European Community; we have signed the Treaty of Accession; we have the opportunity of full membership; but I now advise this House to throw them away." I do not believe that any Prime Minister could say that, and it follows from what I have said that this Bill is not a luxury which we can dispense with if need be.
It has been a central policy of three successive Governments, irrespective of party, and of all three main parties in this House that Britain should join the European Communities if suitable arrangements could be negotiated. By a large majority this House decided in principle last October that Britain should join the Community on the basis of the arrangements negotiated by my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy. Any Government which thereafter failed to give legislative effect to that clear decision of this House would be abdicating its responsibilities.
I must tell the House that my colleagues and I are of one mind that the Government cannot abdicate their responsibilities in this matter. Therefore, if this House will not agree to the Second Reading of the Bill tonight and so refuses to give legislative effect to its own decision of principle, taken by a vast majority less than four months ago, my colleagues and I are unanimous that in these circumstances this Parliament cannot sensibly continue. I urge hon. Members to implement the clear decision of principle taken on 28th October last and to cast their votes for the Second Reading of this Bill.
The Bill then passed on to Committee Stage before its third reading.
On 13 July 1972 the House of Commons voted 301-284 in favour of the Bill in its third and final reading before passing on to the House of Lords. Before the vote took place, Geoffrey Rippon (who had drafted the Bill) argued in the House of Commons immediately before the vote:
|“||My right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate dealt with that matter in Committee. It is a typical antediluvian intervention from an opponent of the Bill.
The building of a united Europe has been an objective of British foreign policy pursued by successive Governments for generations, and it stems, as the House should recognise, from a recognition that even at the height of our power and influence in the 19th century we could not afford to follow a self-isolating policy. It is usually Mr. Gladstone whom I wish to quote but on this occasion Lord Salisbury might be more appropriate. He said: We belong to a great community of nations and we have no right to shrink from the duties which the interests of the Community impose upon us…We are part of the community of Europe and we must do our duty as such. Lord Salisbury said that at Caernarvon on 11th April, 1888, and Mr. Gladstone said the same.
I believe that we shall walk tall into Europe on 1st January 1973. We shall take our rightful place in the counsels of Europe. We shall compete and we shall contribute.
The Bill then passed to the House of Lords before receiving Royal Assent.
The Act received Royal Assent on 17 October and UK's instrument of ratification of the Treaty of Accession was deposited the next day athrough the act and the treaty did not become law until 1 January 1973 when the United Kingdom officially became a member state of the European Communities (now the European Union) along with Denmark and the Republic of Ireland.
The European Communities Act was the instrument whereby the UK was able to join the European Union (then known as the European Communities). It enables, under section 2(2), UK government ministers to lay regulations before Parliament to transpose EU Directives (then Community law) and rulings of the European Court of Justice into UK law. It also provides, in section 2(4), that all UK legislation, including primary legislation (Acts of Parliament) have effect "subject to" directly applicable EU law. This has been interpreted by UK courts as granting EU law primacy over domestic UK legislation.
The Act incorporated the following treaties into the domestic law of the United Kingdom.
The following treaties were added to the act though subsequent amendments.
The Act legislated for the full participation of the United Kingdom in the Common Agricultural Policy and fully incorporates the policy into UK domestic law. It repealed previous pieces of UK domestic legislation to allow for this.
The Act legislated for the incorporation and full participation of the United Kingdom within the European Union Customs Union (then European Communities Customs Union) into domestic law, as well as the application of the European common external tariff to all goods which come into the UK from outside the European Communities. The Act repealed large sections of previous UK domestic legislation to allow for this.
The primacy and direct effect of EU law has no formal basis in the founding treaties of the union but was developed by the European Court of Justice (ECJ), long before UK accession, on the grounds that the purpose of the treaties would be thwarted if EU law were subordinate to national law. The view of the ECJ is that any norm of EU law takes precedence over national law, including national constitutions. Most national courts, including the United Kingdom's, do not accept this monist perspective. The British constitution is based on Parliamentary sovereignty and has a dualist view of international law: international treaties do not become part of UK domestic law unless they are incorporated into UK law by an Act of Parliament. The primacy of EU law in the United Kingdom derives from the European Communities Act. This means that if the Act were repealed, any EU law (unless it has been transposed into British legislation) would, in practice, become unenforceable in the United Kingdom and Gibraltar, and the powers delegated by the Act to the EU institutions would return to the Parliament of the United Kingdom. This was made clear to be the law in the United Kingdom by the inclusion of the "sovereignty clause" in the EU Act 2011 passed by the British Parliament.
The question of sovereignty had been discussed in an official document (FCO 30/1048) that became available to the public in January 2002 under the Thirty-year rule. It listed among "Areas of policy in which parliamentary freedom to legislate will be affected by entry into the European Communities": Customs duties, Agriculture, Free movement of labour, services and capital, Transport, and Social Security for migrant workers. The document concluded (paragraph 26) that it was advisable to put the considerations of influence and power before those of formal sovereignty.
In the Factortame case, the House of Lords (Lord Bridge) has interpreted section 2(4) as effectively inserting an implied clause into all UK statutes that they shall not apply where they conflict with European law. This is seen by some as a departure from the British constitutional doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty, as traditionally understood.
The United Kingdom voted for British withdrawal from the EU in the 2016 EU referendum held on 23 June 2016, and afterwards there was speculation that the act would be either repealed or amended. In October 2016 the prime minister, Theresa May, promised a "Great Repeal Bill" which would repeal the 1972 act and import its regulations into UK law, with effect from the date of British withdrawal; the regulations could then be amended or repealed on a case-by-case basis. The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill was introduced in the House of Commons in July 2017.
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