Local Labour leaders in Plymouth have removed prayers from the beginning of council meetings, as “part of the process of modernisation”.
Prayers at the council will now be at 1.45pm, 15 minutes before the meeting officially starts at 2 o’clock.
A local Conservative councillor strongly criticised the move, slamming “the thoughtless rush for change”.
Councillor Ted Fry, the Tories’ group leader at Plymouth City Council, said tradition was important to the city’s citizens.
He added: “Labour may use their majority to impose their will. This would be wrong.
“Let there be public debate and reflection by decision makers before they decide.”
The change came in an email which referred to increased popularity of both the council’s website, and online webcast.
Judith Shore, the democratic and member services manager, wrote: “As part of the process of modernisation, it is considered that council meetings should start at 2pm precisely – as advertised and as anticipated by members of the public who want to see the meeting via the webcast.
“In order to accommodate this, it is considered that prayers should be said at 1.45pm.
“This will allow members who do not attend prayers the opportunity to enter and settle into the chamber before the formal start of the meeting.”
A spokeswoman for Plymouth City Council said: “The start time for full council meetings is not changing. The meetings will begin at 2pm.
“Rather than prayers being held at 2pm followed by the meeting formally commencing, which results in a delay to the start of the webcast, prayers will now be held a few minutes earlier so the meeting can start promptly and on time at 2pm.”
Last year the Government wrote to all local councils in England, telling them that new laws restore their power to hold prayers at official meetings.
Earlier in the year the High Court had ruled that local councils have no lawful power to hold prayers during official business.
But within days of the court’s decision, the Secretary of State for Local Government fast-tracked the commencement of new laws that overtook the court’s ruling.