Big Ben silencing: Parliament authorities dismiss Theresa May's call to rethink repairs as impractical

Jeremy Corbyn agrees the repairs must be carried out but adds, ‘It’s not a national disaster or catastrophe'

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Wednesday 16 August 2017 16:56
Stopping and starting Big Ben’s bongs would be impractical and a waste of money, says Commons Commission
Stopping and starting Big Ben’s bongs would be impractical and a waste of money, says Commons Commission

The Parliamentary authorities have dismissed Theresa May’s call to rethink the silencing of Big Ben, dismissing it as impractical and a waste of money.

They rejected the idea of allowing the Great Bell to chime during the hours that work is not being carried out, pointing out it would take half a day to stop and start the process.

The statement was issued after the Prime Minister, within hours of returning from her summer holiday, intervened in the row by saying: “It can’t be right for Big Ben to be silent for four years.

“And I hope that the Speaker, as the chairman of the House of Commons Commission, will look into this urgently, so that we can ensure that we can continue to hear Big Ben through those four years.”

Jeremy Corbyn dismissed the growing furore, agreeing that the repairs had to be carried out and saying: “It’s not a national disaster or catastrophe.”

The 118 decibel bongs would not only damage the hearing of staff using the 100 metre high scaffolding around the tower, but could also startle them, it is feared.

In response to Ms May’s criticism, the Commission agreed to review the length of time of the repair work that will silence the bells, scheduled to last four years.

But, in the later statement, it said: “Starting and stopping Big Ben is a complex and lengthy process.

“The striking hammer is locked and the bells can then be disconnected from the clock mechanism. The weights are lowered within the weight shaft to the base of the tower and secured in a safe position. The whole process takes around half a day to complete.

“Following a thorough assessment, experts have concluded that it would not be practical or a good use of public money to start and stop the bells each day, particularly as we cannot fully predict the times that staff will be working on this project.”

Asked for his view, the Labour leader suggested it was possible to have “bells from all over the country played at various points”, instead of silence.

He added: “I hope Big Ben comes back but, obviously, people working right alongside that wonderful massive bell need to be protected.”

Earlier, Brexit Secretary David Davis also waded into the row, insisting stopping the chimes was “mad”, dismissing the health and safety concerns and telling the authorities to “just get on with it”.

The move was also labelled “entirely bonkers” by Conservative MP James Gray, who sat on the administration committee which first approved the work.

MPs have asked officials to look at the cost and practical implications of ringing the Great Bell more often than the current plan to put it back into use for special occasions, such as New Year’s Eve.

Liberal Democrat Tom Brake, who answers questions from MPs on behalf of the Commission, said it did not know about the four-year silence when the plans were signed off.

The last bongs will chime at noon on 21 August, beginning the longest period Big Ben has been silenced in its 157-year history.

The £29m renovation includes the installation of a lift and repairs to the clock’s hands, mechanism and pendulum.

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