While English councillors pray, the Welsh can count sheep
Welsh Conservatives have called on Welsh Labour ministers to explain why they blocked a new power which would have enshrined the rights of Welsh local authorities to hold prayers. The Conservative Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles fast-tracked an order effectively to overrule a controversial High Court decision which threatened Town Hall prayers. But the Welsh Executive (Labour) rejected the invitation of the Conservative-led Coalition to have Welsh local authorities included in the legislation to protect the rights of Welsh Councils.
Janet Finch-Saunders AM, Shadow Minister for Local Government, said: “People across Wales will find it extraordinary that Welsh Labour Ministers would not want to protect the right of local Councils, if they wish, to hold prayers at their meetings. For many families, faith remains an integral part of daily life in Wales so it seems odd that Labour Ministers would reject a simple way to protect the right to worship. Welsh Labour Ministers now need to explain whether they intend to bring forward their own legislation to allow local councils, should they wish, to continue to hold prayers. Failing to defend the rights of local councils speaks volumes about Labour’s attitude towards local democracy and sadly strikes a blow for localism and genuine devolution.”
The High Court judgment related to Section 111 of the Local Government Act 1972 which applies to England and Wales. Post-devolution, the Welsh Assembly has the competence to legislate in this area. The Localism Act 2011 which has introduced the general power of competence in England could have been applied to Wales, yet the Labour-run Welsh Assembly Government refused the Coalition Government’s offer for the Act to include Wales (because, one suspects, the Welsh Assembly Government doesn’t really like devolving power to councils...).