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Councils secure right to say prayers

Councils today regain the power to say prayers before meetings following a Government intervention that it trumpeted as a victory over political correctness.

The move by Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, came a week after a High Court ruling that Bideford town council in Devon had broken the law.

Although the court ruled that holding prayers did not breach the human rights of non-Christians, it said councils had exceeded their powers under the Local Government Act.

Under a parliamentary order coming into force today, local authorities will be given a "general power of competence" to do anything unless it was specifically banned by law.

Mr Pickles said the move would give councils the legal standing to ensure they could hold formal prayer sessions. He said: "Last week's case should be seen as a wake-up call. For too long, the public sector has been used to marginalise and attack faith in public life, undermining the very foundations of the British nation. But this week the tables have been turned."

He said: "By reversing that illiberal ruling, we are striking a blow for localism over central interference, for freedom to worship over intolerant secularism, for Parliamentary sovereignty over judicial activism and for long-standing British liberties over modern-day political correctness."

The move comes into effect today for most English councils, apart from parish councils which gain it from next month.