IN editing my letter (Council will not be breaking the law, March 1) you have me stating that the new provision empowering a local authority “to do anything that individuals generally may do” is contained in the order made on February 17, 2012 by the communities secretary, Eric Pickles. This is incorrect. The new “general power of competence”, as it is called, is contained in section one of the Localism Act 2011.
What Eric Pickles did by his order was to fast-track the commencement of this section of the 2011 Act in response to the Bideford judgment.
As he explained in a letter headed Freedom to pray, published on the departmental website, “I do not believe it was ever the intention of Parliament when it passed [the Local Government Act 1972] 40 years ago to prohibit council prayers, which are a common day practice that dates back many centuries ... I believe religion continues to play an important part in the culture, heritage and fabric of our nation.”
He added: “It will of course continue to be for councils to determine the content of prayers, including by reflecting the faith composition of their local area, but the decision on whether to hold prayers is now a local one again. Our multi-faith nation, which has brought many benefits, is not strengthened by the secularisation of civil life.”
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