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 162.

    The majority of visitors would probably be foreign tourists, so charging for the tour is not an issue for me. £15.00 seems a fair value for me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 161.

    Are they extracting the urine?! Paying to see something we already pay for?! What a bunch of crooks - but then we knew that already. Charge foreign visitors but not the pockets that already pay for it. Utter nonsense.

  • rate this

    Comment number 160.

    £15 is cheap for such an iconic site. No one complains about having to pay to get in to St Pauls so why not this ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 159.

    Why not do what other countries do at tourist spots - charge tourists or foreign nationals a fee and allow British nationals (upon production of passport or other ID) to tour free....?

  • rate this

    Comment number 158.

    "....maybe we should start charging MPs rent for using the House of Commons to spout their politics"

    Good idea, but they already complain that their salaries are so low that they are forced to steal taxpayers' money by committing fraud on their expenses and that they have no alternative but to accept kick-backs from corporate donors or take second jobs as corporate 'advisers'. MPs are a vile lot.

  • rate this

    Comment number 157.

    My simplistic view:
    National Trust offers a package where you buy their card and get reduced entry rates. Historic cotland/England offers a package where you buy a card and get free entry to all their sites. Big Ben isn't even owned by a private or charitable entity - it's Publicly owned. This means we all own it, so should all be entitled to see it for free. Pay for a guided tour, but not to see

  • rate this

    Comment number 156.

    Like many, I was completely unaware that you could go inside the tower for a relatively reasonable fee. £10 would be better, but really, I agree the tax-payer shouldn't subsidise people (mostly tourists who won't be paying much tax back into the country) to look at a bell that most of us didn't know we could look at ourselves. An entry price is far fairer in this instance.

  • rate this

    Comment number 155.

    What people forget is taxpayers pay for everything the government spends money on. I as a taxpayer want to see value for money on all Govt spending and allowing tourists, (inc foreign ones) to wander around Big Ben for free does not make financial sense when there are associated costs with managing the site and tours? However, £15 is quite aggressive and 50% of that should more than suffice

  • rate this

    Comment number 154.

    Those that wish to vist Big Ben, will pay

    Those that don't wish pay, don't visit


  • rate this

    Comment number 153.

    Totally in line with what you would expect from MP's today and while you are are paying your £15 per person they [MPs] sit in their comfortable "Subsidised" restaurants in Westminster complaining about the amount of chips one gets with their Dover Sole. So, We pay with out taxes for the privilege then we pay at the door to get in then we pay a third time with 20% VAT

  • rate this

    Comment number 152.


    First, London is our capital, whether you like it or not. Second, you're being incredibly provincial if you think only people from the South-East visit London. Just because you have no interest in the capital of your country doesn't mean others don't. And no, I don't live in the South-East.

  • rate this

    Comment number 151.

    This is to add to the charge of visiting Westminster Abbey plus St Paul's Cathedral. We spent a day in London last year with the intention of seeing
    these lovely buildings but couldn't afford to go in...I bet the next thing will be to charge to enter the museums...watch this space!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 150.

    #128, I quite agree with your comment, nice to see a reasonable suggestion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 149.

    "It says up to 10,000 go on the tours each year and "it is not clear why the taxpayer should subsidise them".

    What an excellent idea.
    Now what about the rest such as subsidised bars restaurants please yourself no receipts needed expenses and all the rest of the freebees handed out gratis to MP's.

    No...thought not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 148.

    132. yorkshireflatcap

    The universal franchise on the basis of 'one person, one vote' was only introduced into England, Scotland, and Wales in 1948 and in Northern Ireland not until 1968. We still have a wholly unelected chamber in parliament.

  • rate this

    Comment number 147.

    I think it is a reasonable charge. Our MPs have been bitterly complaining about the quality of the food in their dining rooms recently. The money raised could be used to bring about improvements.

  • rate this

    Comment number 146.

    Will the person who came up with this latest rip off be awarded a Gong or possibly a Bong?

  • rate this

    Comment number 145.

    I smell Olympics opportunism here - yet another example of a service cashing in on the visitor influx.
    Timing aside - it is reasonable that there should be a charge. However 10,000 visitors @ £15 (150K per annum) cannot possibly be what it costs to provide the existing service surely ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 144.

    Climbing the steps in the footsteps of Robert Powell to see Big Ben is not 'seeing our ancient democracy' - it is an item on a tourist itinerary. The C19th clock tower needs constant maintenance and supervision. If you want to see our 'ancient democracy' in action you can go to the house of commons public gallery - FOR FREE. simples.

  • rate this

    Comment number 143.

    If MP`s really want to look at saving money perhaps they should look nearer to home. How about things like foregoing first class rail and flight travel everywhere they go and reducing the the size of the gravy train that is Parliament.


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