Thursday, 16 February 2012

A compromise on council prayers

THE High Court decision last week that allowing prayers to be said at council meetings is unlawful is bound to cause a few waves in our own council chamber.

Throughout the West Country, and most probably further afield, it has long been a tradition for council meetings to start with the saying of a prayer.

But in a test case brought against Bideford Town Council by the National Secular Society, following a complaint from a councillor, the High Court agreed with the NSS view that prayers were an “inappropriate ritual” and contrary to articles 9 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The judge ruled that local authorities had no power under section 111 of the Local Government Act 1972 to hold prayers as part of the formal meeting.

Prayers are said in the Guildhall chamber before the full council meetings in Lyme but I’m not sure how long this tradition has been going.

I have to say I can’t remember if prayers were said before every council meeting when I was mayor in the mid 1980s. They were certainly said before the annual mayor-making ceremony.

Local historian Ken Gollop, who also served as a councillor, believes the saying of prayers before meetings in Lyme is a fairly recent tradition but it would seem that in some West Country council chambers it has been going on for centuries.

The issue of prayers has come under the spotlight in the Lyme council since the election of the new council last May. A number of supporters of the new councillors refused to stand during prayers at one of their first meetings and Councillor Mark Gage, a confirmed athiest, left the council chamber when prayers were said on a couple of occasions, although he has stayed in the chamber whilst prayers were said in recent weeks. 

But I don’t think he’s the only one who thinks this way as I believe there are a number of other Lyme councillors who would prefer it if prayers were not part of the formal proceedings.

The new Localism Bill which gives new freedoms and flexibilities to local councils could well solve this issue in the future but that could cause a rift among councillors who feel strongly on the matter.

I imagine the Mayor, Sally Holman, will be seeking advice from the town clerk on this issue. There is a simple solution in my opinion. Prayers should be scheduled at 6.50 pm before the 7 pm start of meetings. Those councillors who wish to observe this tradition could then attend a few minutes earlier and those who do not would not have to enter the chamber until prayers were concluded.

There seemes to be a strong feeling the town, even among non-believers, that the tradition should be maintained. This would be one way of doing so without some councillors having to compromise their principles.

So far from the image of a Hollywood star

WATCHING the BAFTAS on television on Sunday evening, and seeing Meryl Streep pick up an award for her brilliant portrayal of Margaret Thatcher, I could not help but think back to the 1980s when Miss Streep stayed in Lyme Regis whilst filming “The French Lieutenant’s Woman”.

I was deputy mayor at the time and was priveleged to be invited to a couple of receptions held for the cast. But my most vivid memory is attending a party when filming in Lyme was completed at Haye House, one of Lyme’s most lovely houses where some of the cast were staying.

Miss Streep’s demeanour could not have been further from the image of the Hollywood star that she undoubtedly is. She spent most of the evening ensuring that the ashtrays were regularly emptied and the furnishings were not soiled by the glamorous merrymakers.

In fact, I wrote a few paragraphs and sold them to Nigel Dempster’s Daily Mail Diary for  the princely sum of £60!

Will we get a royal visit for shelters renaming?

AS co-ordinator of the programme of events to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in June, I am of course pleased that Lyme Regis Town Council has decided to rename the central section of the renegerated Marine Parade Shelters as 'The Jubilee Pavilion'.

The decision was made after the public voted overwhelmingly in favour of renaming the central pavilion as a permanent legacy to the Queen’s 60 years on the throne.

Now when I say “overwhelmingly” that would mean an overwhelming majority of those who bothered to vote.

Residents of Lyme were asked in a form that appeared in both local newspapers and in the Council Newsletter to say whether they wanted the shelters renamed and, if so, after whom.

The response was pretty disappointing: only 94 slips were returned of which 63 voted in favour of renaming the central pavilion (67 per cent). Of the 63 people in favour, 46 wanted a name related to the Queen or Jubilee and 'Jubilee Pavilion' was the favourite.

Several councillors pointed out that this was hardly representational of the town, but the council could do no more than ask the townsfolk to vote and were pretty well obliged to go along with the majority of those who did.

There’s now some excitement in the town that it might be possible to get a royal persenage to officially rename the shelters but when I put this to Mayor Sally Holman she remained firmly tight lipped.

1 comment:

  1. Please can you tell me who was the Mayor of Lyme Regis in 1972?