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 182.

    Get Used to paying £15 to see Big Ben and it wont be long before you have to get used to paying £55 to see your doctor. Perhaps even Members of parliament will change an entrance fee in their constituent surgeries hell when they say "constituent surgeries" it sounds like an NHS practice. so yes £55 to see your own member of parliament would probably follow this move.

  • rate this

    Comment number 181.

    This is obviously aimed at tourists, I see little problem with it. As #25 said, it's an iconic building and is plastered over the screen whenever Hollywood needs to reference London.
    If you don't like the price then don't go, I dare say English Heritage members will get a discount plus the usual family offers associated with attractions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 180.

    Adding ID checking would increase the cost of handling visitors and that would mean that the charge would have to be higher. Plus it would need to be higher again to cover the cost of the non-paying visitors. There are two options to reduce the cost of the tours. Charge and cover the costs or close it to the public. I'd rather it stayed open.

  • rate this

    Comment number 179.

    @25. Balloon Rake, are you crazy? £15 is extortionate, that's more than I get to live on a week (excluding rent)

  • rate this

    Comment number 178.

    All these references to Big Ben is NOT correct. The bell and clock are housed in St.Stephen's Tower. Big Ben is only the bell.

  • rate this

    Comment number 177.

    What a joke. Maybe 10 people on a each time £150, guild maybe £15 per hour. so what happens to the other £135. Our taxes already pay for the building, cleaning, fixing things.

    £135 profit!!!!!!!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 176.

    It's all about money in Just Call Me Dave's' brand new new shiny sparkly world isn't it.

    Another example of rip off Britain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 175.

    More slime from sleazy politicians.
    We, the public, OWN those buildings and the trough snuffling gits want to charge us for visiting what we own.
    Just when you thought it couldn't be possible there is more disgrace from the ironically-named right honourable gentlemen.

  • rate this

    Comment number 174.

    Let's keep things in perspective, it's just a big clock & only a minority are interested in climbing all those steps (everyone else would be happier to watch a video).

    Even the majority of Londoners have probably never visited it, so why should all UK tax payers subsidise tourists who like exercise?

    I'm sure I'm not alone in associating it more with 'News at Ten' than our 'Political Heritage'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 173.

    A sweeping statment, Seb. I do complain about paying to see St Paul's, and other places. (see #157). I do not subscribe to the National Trust, but I do have an annual subscription with Historic Scotland. It allows me to tour both Scotland and England, seeing such iconic sights as Stonehenge for 'free', through my subscription. Well worth it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 172.

    I Agree they should charge, but £15 is a bit steep, £5 should cover the tour guide's wages. Having said that, the number of vistors will probably go down when it's not free.

  • rate this

    Comment number 171.

    Of course you could just go to this page and use the interactive tour which is FREE for ALL


  • rate this

    Comment number 170.

    Get rid of the subsidised food and bar first.

  • rate this

    Comment number 169.

    i think its ridiculous that British citizens, after having paid taxes, have to pay to learn about their out country! I've been on holiday to many other cities/countries where local people are charged nothing and tourists extortionately! so why can that not happen here if British citizens don't have a problem with that happening abroad?

  • rate this

    Comment number 168.

    A note to everybody who only want to charge foreigners.
    I don't want to have to carry my passport or some other idenity document to visit places. That's a worse principle than deciding to pay or not. Plus, imagine all the fuss when a UK citizen forgets their passport. It would feel worse paying £15 when you don't need to than just accepting it as £15 for everybody.

  • rate this

    Comment number 167.

    A good idea but a little expensive. There needs to be a reduction for children and families. There would not be much point in a reduction for pensioners as most of them won't fancy the 334 steps. Ther should not be reduction for foreign tourists.

  • rate this

    Comment number 166.

    I don't care to walk the stairs nor to visit London. If the government wishes to charge £100 per person as far as i'm concerned they are welcome to, provided those funds aren't filtered and the money re-invested in advertsing the UK (not just London).

  • rate this

    Comment number 165.

    Let's face it, the sort of people who have the wherewithall to arrange a visit to Big Ben can probably afford the fee.

    When we can't even afford to keep all our libraries open, there's no longer any room for sentiment, and there are hundreds of other savings the government can look at while they're about it.

    Charging overseas visitors entry to our museums might be a good starting point.

  • rate this

    Comment number 164.

    So let me see. We pay your wages, your expenses, your westminster bars, your westminster restaurants, we even pay for trees to shade their office block (£32,000 a year to rent). And now you want us to pay for entry into a clock tower we already own? This has nothing to do with saving but amounts to more subsidies to enable MPs to enjoy lots of freebies. This gravy trains seriously needs derailing

  • rate this

    Comment number 163.

    "But the commission says members were consulted about the proposal in November 2010 and it did not attract opposition"
    is this the same commission that says theres apparently no opposition to the nhs changes?


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