U-turn over Big Ben trip charges


MPs debating the proposed £15 charge for visitors wanting to see Big Ben

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Tourists will not be charged for trips up the the Big Ben clock tower until at least 2015, after a U-turn by the Commons group which suggested the idea.

Several MPs raised objections to charging £15, saying it would discourage people on average earnings from visiting.

So the House of Commons Commission decided not to push for change until at least the end of this parliament.

Tory MP Robert Halfon had argued charges would be "wrong".

The commission says up to 10,000 people take tours each year, at a cost of £93,000.

'Not an adornment'

But, in the Commons, Mr Halfon, one of many MPs against the idea, said charging £15 would discourage people on average earnings from visiting.

Start Quote

The bells of Big Ben rang throughout the Blitz”

End Quote Robert Halfon Conservative MP

The tower was "part of our democracy", not "simply an adornment", he added.

It is currently free to climb the 334 steps of the clock tower containing Big Ben.

The commission had planned to charge visitors £15 from July.

But, before a vote on Mr Halfon's motion against the change could take place, Lib Dem MP John Thurso, who speaks for the commission, offered a compromise.

He said he and his colleagues had "agreed that no charge" would be made "during this parliament".

He added that they "would therefore prefer to listen to the will of the House on this occasion" to ensure that the majority of a wider cost-cuttings programme could come into effect.

Mr Halfon's motion, as amended by Mr Thurso, was subsequently passed by the Commons without a vote being called.

During the debate, Mr Halfon argued that charging for entry to the clock tower could lead to charges for visits to other parts of the Palace of Westminster during times when Parliament is sitting.

He added that "it is not only the most recognisable British icon in the world, but also the most recognisable parliamentary building...

"I believe Big Ben is central to Parliament. It's the symbol of Parliament."

It would be "completely wrong" to belittle the tower's importance, Mr Halfon said: adding: "The bells of Big Ben rang throughout the Blitz. It has a central part in everything that's good about being British."

He argued that the current cost of running tours could be more than covered by reducing food waste in Parliament's dining areas and other expenses.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    I think its a disgrace charging tax payers money to see national symbols and monuments, a classic example is Cathederals, since when was religion a chargable commodity, i'm pretty sure you wouldnt have to pay to see the Mosques or Synagogues, its even free to get into St Peters basilica in Rome (a real Church). The upkeep of these monuments and quite rightly should be met by the taxpayer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    Wakey Wakey! Its Cash-Grab Greed Britain's ethical, social, administrative and economic heartbeat. Where better to symbolically enshrine it. Hof P and WA. Bong! Nation consumed by petty cash obsession Bong! PM flies to summit in Seychelles Bong! Councils Management & Government develop fully blown OCD Bong! Regulators abolished....

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    Cutting costs in parliment, well how about scrapping the subsidised bars and restaurants. The idea of free or discounted rates for British citizens and full rate for foreign tourists will not work as it undermines the age old principle of shaft the taxpayer for as much as possible.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    "I pay my taxes for things such as this, my biggest gripe is having to pay to visit Westminster Abbey,"
    While I agree with you on principle, remember that the Abbey belongs to the Church of England which gets NO state funding. They have no option but to charge. Even the most recalcitrant atheist ought to be in favour of State money for historical church buildings (and free admission).

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    £15 for a young out of work single person with no kids is a fortune, I know because I have been there. Singles are the discarded many as families or single parents 'always' are number 1 priority and 2,3,4 and 5 if we are honest - singles have pretty much had it. I only had to suffer a month or so as a slave to the job centre - I feel for you long termers !!

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    If this is a money saving exercise I wonder how much of the £150,000 it will raise will be spent on employing the people to collect the £15 entry fee?
    I suppose the only benefit will be that it will create a job or two.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    25.Balloon Rake
    £15 is very reasonable to see such an iconic piece of history

    It's an i-Con all right. How much to look at the clock and set your watch?

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    Steve, 9500 X £15 isn't what you say it is, but I take your point. I wonder what the guide's hourly rate is? It does sound like profiteering and I'm sure they will rake it in during the Olympics.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    Rip off? No. Depending on the time of day, it costs between £125 and £200 to climb Sydney Harbour Bridge, so £15 to climb Big Ben is a bargain! It costs the state for people to visit attractions like this so the visitors, many of them from abroad who have not paid taxes in this country, must pay for access, which I hope will go towards the upkeep of Big Ben.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    Why not adopt the approach I have experienced in other parts of the world, eg: when I visited the Taj Mahal, it was INR 20 for my Indian associate to get in but INR 200 plus an INR 500 surcharge for me, as a foreigner; to get into the national parks in Thailand, it was THB 20 for a Thai national but THB 200 for me, as a foreigner; so, free for Brits and GBP 15 for foreigners?

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    Ripoff Britain shining at its brightest !

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    I visited the clock tower about 40 years ago as a relative worked there as a policeman at the time and he got access for us via a helpful MP. Having been I'm not sure I would rush to go again especially as the years take their toll. It was cheaper to have a cooked lunch and dessert in the commons than a cup of tea at London Victoria on the way back.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    Everybody seems to be missing the devious thinking behind this plan.

    They expect to recoup this charge mainly from johnny foreigner tourist - they have taken all our cash in taxes, low interest rates or the fear of employment and lack of growth in the economy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    £15??!! Who the hell is leading these tours, Wayne Rooney?? If there are 9,500 visitors a year that's £2,137,500 p.a. - and that is not a profit? Either the tour guides are more grossly overpaid than underground drivers, or the parliamentary estate is run by imbeciles who can't even spell efficiency, or it's a lie. On principle should be free, £5 would be tolerable, £15 an insult.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    @ 38.sa25
    "We should do what they do in other countries. Foriegners pay 10x more than residents. so £15 for them and 15p for us!"

    That would make it £1.50 for us, not 15p. Doh!

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    British citizens should not have to pay for this or visits to e.g. Buck house etc, we pay for the upkeep via taxation and as British citizens they belong to us!
    However, foreign tourists and anyone who is NOT a British citizen should pay. If you ever go to any of the museums they are stuffed full of foreign tourists you can barely hear yourself think or see exhibits for them - charge them!

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    I didn't even know the public could go and see the bell Big Ben. Out of my way, let me see it before they charge me for the opportunity :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    £15 sounds like another tourist rip-off.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    Seriously, we are at the geographic epicentre of Polical Correctness. At the very least we surely should have an expectation that the £15 charge will only applies to UK Taxpayers, and that the unwashed, scroungers and non-taxpayers go straight to the head of this short queue for free. Just saying...

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    I dont have a problem with the payment.I do have a problem with an MP Robert Halfon who obviously does not realise that he and the other MPs are subsidised by Taxpayers by receiving expenses, cheap meals, transport etc, Who would employ idots like this in the real world.


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