Visitors flock for that Commons touch

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The Independent Online

The Houses of Parliament have been such a surprise tourist success, despite the gloom besetting other London visitor attractions, that they are to be permanently opened to summer holiday-makers.

The Houses of Parliament have been such a surprise tourist success, despite the gloom besetting other London visitor attractions, that they are to be permanently opened to summer holiday-makers.

Cut-price tours of the Commons and Lords have been organised on a trial basis for two years. But after visitor numbers far outstripped expectations, the Westminster authorities have decided to make it a regular stop on the tourist trail. But, the cost of a ticket is to be doubled from £3.50 to £7 after criticism that the taxpayer was, in effect, subsidising foreign visitors.

After a loss of almost £120,000 last year on the scheme, the increased ticket price should produce a small profit for the Commons and Lords. This year's tours will run from 3 August to 29 September and will be promoted by the London Tourist Authority. The 75-minute guided tours will follow the Queen's route on the State Opening of Parliament, visit the two chambers and view Westminster Hall, where the Queen Mother's coffin lay in state in April. Last year there were 86,284 visitors, more than twice the total for 2000. Overall, visitor numbers to many London attractions slumped 10 per cent after world-wide fears over foot-and-mouth. Marion Roe, chairman of the Commons administration committee, said: "We were delighted by the number of people who wanted to visit Parliament last summer. Doubling the visitor numbers when the tourism industry was in crisis is an impressive achievement."

Lord Tordoff, the chairman of committees in the Lords, said he was very pleased "so many people want to see the parliament buildings of one of the the oldest democracies". A well as British day-trippers, thousands of Americans have flocked to visit. The tours are also offered in French, German, Spanish and Italian.

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