UK Politics

U-turn over Big Ben trip charges

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.

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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