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Big Ben – MPs protect free public tours of the Clock tower
Members of Parliament have today ( Thursday 15th March) secured a stay in the introduction, by the House of Commons Commission, of charges for tours of the Palace of Westminster Clock tower (commonly, if incorrectly, known as “Big Ben”).
 
The Commission, seeking a 17% reduction in the expenditure upon the running of Parliament, had intended to introduce a charge of £15 per head with almost immediate effect.

Intervening during a short Commons debate today North Thanet`s MP, Sir Roger Gale, challenged the basis of the charge.
Westminster Palace and Big Ben Clock Tower
“The costs of facilitating public tours of the Clock tower have been estimated as in the region of £100,000 a year. It seems very likely that having taken into account the need to take on an extra employee to levy the charges and the costs of administration there may, far from achieving any savings, be an added cost to the House!”
 
Members forcefully made the point that “Big Ben” belonged to the British public and not to the House Authorities and felt that charges of £60 for a family of four were not only unreasonable but the thin end of a wedge that would lead to the imposition of further charges levied upon visitors to the House.
 
“Some colleagues have sought to define a difference between the working of the Chamber as a legislative body and the Clock tower as a tourist attraction” said Roger Gale. “But `Big Ben` is the symbol of parliamentary democracy around the world and that is why, as I put in a point to the Leader of the House, Sir George Young, Hitler devoted so much time and effort trying to destroy the Clock tower during the war.  Ask practically anyone to describe The Palace of Westminster and they will draw a picture of `Big Ben`.  Of course savings have to be made – of rather more, probably, than 17% - but there are better ways of saving greater sums than by placing prohibitive charges upon public access to the Clock tower.”
 
Following a last-minute agreement between the Leader of the House, the spokesman for the Commission, John Thurso MP, and back-bench Members the Commission has agreed to review their savings programme and to delay the imposition of any charges to view the Clock Tower until at least 2015.
 
“I regard this as a victory for commonsense over bean counting nonsense” says Sir Roger Gale. “Tours of the Clock Tower are educational, informative and enjoyable and we ought to encourage greater, rather than diminished, access – particularly for young people”.
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