Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has speeded along implementation of the Localism Act to ensure that councils in England are allowed to say prayers at the start of their meetings. But Eric's writ does not run in Wales. So we are in the situation where councils hold prayers at the start of their meetings in England, but not in Wales.
The High Court judgment banning council prayers 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, I suspect, the Welsh Assembly Government doesn’t really like devolving power to councils…).
But the National Assembly for Wales does have the power to legislate in this area. The ban of prayers can be stopped if the National Assembly wish it.
Janet Finch-Saunders AM, The Conservatives 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.”