UK Politics

MP warns that Parliament risks becoming a 'theme park'

Robert Halfon
Image caption Increased commercialisation would "fundamentally change the nature" of Parliament, Mr Halfon argued

Plans to generate more income from visitors to the Houses of Parliament risk turning the institution into a "theme park", a Tory MP has said.

A Commons committee has mooted more commercial tours of Parliament and hiring out some of its grander rooms.

But Robert Halfon warned MPs not to set a "dangerous precedent" that could lead to "rollercoasters outside" their office windows.

One of Mr Halfon's colleagues said he had a "very vivid imagination".

Sir Alan Haselhurst remarked: "It really does not help the quality of the debate to start using terms like 'theme park'."

But Mr Halfon, the MP for Harlow, said the proposals from the Commons finance and services committee, which aims to raise £3m a year towards Parliament's running costs, could "open a Pandora's box".

'Very exaggerated'

The committee advocates allowing fee-paying visitors to tour Parliament when it is not sitting, moving a gift shop to a better frequented part of the precinct, tempting visitors with cream teas, and seeking out "filming possibilities in the Elizabeth Tower" - the clock-tower housing Big Ben.

It believes these steps can be made without interfering with MPs' work or their constituents' right to visit them.

But Mr Halfon said he was concerned that people who "happen to have a large wad of cash in their wallets" could receive preferential treatment.

The committee's proposals would give "people special access because they are rich to go to see some paintings that my constituents, who are not rich, who are on £20,000 a year, will not be able to see".

"Parliament is not a stately home; it is not a tourist attraction in the sense of many of our other tourist attractions," he said.

"It is not a hotel or a conference venue. It is a very very special place: the foundation of our laws and our democracy, and so it needs to be treated differently.

"Yes, we can make a lot of money by allowing companies to hire out rooms and having weddings here, and allow film people to go to Elizabeth Tower, but once you set that principle, where do you stop?"

The logical conclusion, he suggested was to install "rollercoasters outside" the building.

"You may laugh at the suggestion," he chided his fellow MPs, "but once you accept the principle that we become nothing more than a theme park, you create a dangerous precedent."

Labour frontbencher Angela Eagle, who sits on the House of Commons commission, which oversees the work of the finance and services committee, accused Mr Halfon of making "very exaggerated" claims.

"He really mustn't caricature something that's far less of a problem than he's making out," she warned.

Sarah Newton, a Conservative MP, added: "I have no objection to a film-maker, one of these rich, nasty corporates as my colleague is branding them, if they want to spend several hundred thousand pounds filming a James bond film, using Big Ben, which is of course a great national icon of which we're all very proud.

"I think nobody's going to object to that, and it would mean that we could take that money and reduce the considerable cost of the upkeep and running of this building without going to the taxpayers."

At the end of the debate, MPs overwhelmingly rejected Mr Halfon's amendment, which called for the Commons to have more time to consider whether "the increased commercialisation of Parliament" is desirable, by 179 votes to 13.

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