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 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 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 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 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 63.

    As a tourist i have paid:

    Statue of Liberty: $13.00 for ferry $8.00 audio guide
    Eiffel Tower: 13.40 Euro

    I felt this was reasonable to fund the staffing and maintenance costs incurred.

    Somebody has to pay for the guides, the ticket booths, and all the costs associated with the tours. I would rather the visitors who want to see Big Ben pay for it directly rather than the tax payer.


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