Council will not be breaking law

SUE Ayres (Letters, February 23) can be reassured that Sudbury Town Council will not be breaking the law if it continues to precede its meetings with prayer.

This is for two reasons.

First, the issue decided in the Bideford case was whether saying prayers as part of the formal agenda was lawful, ie whether section 111 of the Local Government Act 1972 empowered the council to include prayers as part of its formal business.

In explaining this the judge, Mr Justice Ouseley, said: “The claimants do not object to councillors saying prayers together, led by a cleric, just before the council meetings begin, but councillors would not be formally summoned to that gathering.”

As the prayers said before Sudbury Town Council meetings are not on the agenda and are prior to the actual meeting they are not affected by the Bideford ruling.

Second, the Bideford ruling (that prayers as part of the formal council agenda were not authorised) has effectively been overridden by the order made on February 17 by the communities secretary, Eric Pickles.

This provides: “A local authority has power to do anything that individuals generally may do” and supersedes section 111 of the 1972 Act.

This will apply to parish councils (which includes Sudbury Town Council) from April.

Further, Ouseley J rejected the other complaints of the National Secular Society, holding that if, contrary to his ruling, the saying of prayers as part of the formal business of the council was lawful, “the manner in which the practice is carried out in the circumstances of Bideford does not infringe either Mr Bone’s human rights nor does it unlawfully discriminate indirectly against him on the grounds of his lack of religious belief.”

In the light of the bringing into force of section 1 of the 2011 Act, therefore, the NSS’s victory is somewhat pyrrhic.

DAVID LAMMING

Holbrook Barn Road

Boxford