Smooth passage for Bill to allow council prayers

09 January 2015

iSTOCK

A BILL to allow local councils to hold prayers before meetings moved a step closer to becoming law this week after it passed its committee stage without amendment.

The Private Members' Bill was introduced in response to a successful legal challenge by the National Secular Society to Bideford Town Council in 2012 (News, 17 February 2012). The High Court ruled that local councils could not include prayers on their agendas because they could do only things that were specifically permitted by law.

The decision was effectively made redundant by the Localism Act, which gave local authorities a "general power of competence" to do anything that was not otherwise unlawful. But that Act does not apply to all local authorities.

Besides allowing prayers to be included as part of a council's business, the Bill will also allow local authorities to "support, facilitate, and make arrangements to be represented at religious events or events with a religious element".

"This Bill is necessary," the MP who introduced the Bill, Jake Berry (Conservative), said: "necessary because faith is an important part of our national life here in Britain; necessary because it is about granting and preserving our freedom to pray; and necessary because it addresses an aggressive and unwelcome secular attack on our core British values."

Rob Flello MP (Labour) supported the Bill and recited its opening lines: "'Be it enacted by the Queen's most Excellent Majesty, with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual. . .' It is absolutely at the heart of this country," he said.

A minister in the Department for Communities and Local Government, Kris Hopkins MP (Conservative), said that the Bill was "wholly supported" by the Government, and that it "gives back the power" to local authorities to carry out a "centuries-old tradition" that had been blocked by the High Court.

The Bill will move back to the Commons chamber for its Report Stage next Friday.

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