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Published on March 15th, 2012 | by Robert Bickers
Image © [caption id="attachment_8984" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="The Clock Tower- with Big Ben inside. Copyright, All rights reserved by Tales from the South"][/caption] Later this year the House of Commons authority plans to introduce a charge for visitors to the Houses of Parliament to climb the world famous Clock Tower commonly known as Big Ben. This had led to some people, such as the Conservative MP Robert Halfon, to argue that this charge challenges the principle of free access to democracy for the public. It is however simply untrue that these changes reduce the openness of government or unfairly discriminate against the poor by making it unaffordable. The current plans are only to charge visitors for climbing the Clock Tower and as there are no plans to introduce charges to see debates in the Commons, Lords or committees the democratic workings of Parliament will still be fully accessible. I am against charging the public to see the constitutionally important parts of Parliament because the public should always be able to see how and why decisions are made and not be deterred by the cost. These proposals however have no impact on this fundamental right. There is an argument that regardless of the constitutional role of the Clock Tower the public should have unrestricted and free access due to its symbolic significance. The crux of this viewpoint is that as Parliament is for the people, the most recognised part of it should not be off limits to the people. This principle is however completely unworkable in practice. Each individual member of the public would consider different aspects of the government to be symbolically important to our democratic system and it is not possible for everyone to visit just because it is sentimentally important to them. For example most people would agree that No 10 is symbolic of our democracy and the extension of this argument is that people should be allowed unrestricted tours of there as well. This is clearly not a good idea, as much of what is discussed in there is confidential and top secret; not to mention the fact that hordes of tourists would be highly distracting to those working there. Obviously in an ideal world where there is no government debt crisis it would be nice if all historic buildings were completely free. However as Parliament, like the rest of the public sector, is cutting costs, I would much rather see charges introduced to see a constitutionally insignificant part of the building rather than other cuts. What would actually damage our democratic system is if the cuts were solely focused on the libraries, archives and administration of Parliament limiting its ability to hold the executive to account.

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Charging to see Big Ben does not represent a challenge to democracy

The Clock Tower- with Big Ben inside. Copyright, All rights reserved by Tales from the South

Later this year the House of Commons authority plans to introduce a charge for visitors to the Houses of Parliament to climb the world famous Clock Tower commonly known as Big Ben. This had led to some people, such as the Conservative MP Robert Halfon, to argue that this charge challenges the principle of free access to democracy for the public.

It is however simply untrue that these changes reduce the openness of government or unfairly discriminate against the poor by making it unaffordable. The current plans are only to charge visitors for climbing the Clock Tower and as there are no plans to introduce charges to see debates in the Commons, Lords or committees the democratic workings of Parliament will still be fully accessible. I am against charging the public to see the constitutionally important parts of Parliament because the public should always be able to see how and why decisions are made and not be deterred by the cost. These proposals however have no impact on this fundamental right.

There is an argument that regardless of the constitutional role of the Clock Tower the public should have unrestricted and free access due to its symbolic significance. The crux of this viewpoint is that as Parliament is for the people, the most recognised part of it should not be off limits to the people.

This principle is however completely unworkable in practice. Each individual member of the public would consider different aspects of the government to be symbolically important to our democratic system and it is not possible for everyone to visit just because it is sentimentally important to them. For example most people would agree that No 10 is symbolic of our democracy and the extension of this argument is that people should be allowed unrestricted tours of there as well. This is clearly not a good idea, as much of what is discussed in there is confidential and top secret; not to mention the fact that hordes of tourists would be highly distracting to those working there.

Obviously in an ideal world where there is no government debt crisis it would be nice if all historic buildings were completely free. However as Parliament, like the rest of the public sector, is cutting costs, I would much rather see charges introduced to see a constitutionally insignificant part of the building rather than other cuts. What would actually damage our democratic system is if the cuts were solely focused on the libraries, archives and administration of Parliament limiting its ability to hold the executive to account.

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