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Big Ben - Commission's statement

14 January 2020

Commission Statement

The Elizabeth Tower and the Great Clock are currently undergoing the most extensive conservation project ever carried out in the 160 years since the bell began to strike. The clock mechanism, which usually powers the hammer that strikes the Great Bell (Big Ben), has been dismantled and removed for refurbishment. For the Bell to ring on 31 January, the temporary striking mechanism used for Remembrance Sunday and New Year's Eve would need to be reattached and tested to ensure the timing is correct. Alongside this work, a temporary floor of the belfry where Big Ben is housed would also need to be installed, as extensive work is currently taking place in this area. The cost for the temporary floor and installing, testing and striking Big Ben would be approximately £120,000.

In addition to the set-up, the delay to work in the belfry would push back the planned programme of works by two to four weeks, with each week of delays costing approximately £100,000 a week. As such, the minimum cost of sounding Big Ben would be £320,000 but could be much higher (up to £500,000). These costs are based on a notice period of approximately two weeks. Should the project team be required to strike the bell with less notice, these costs would increase substantially.

In 2017 the House of Commons Commission decided that during the Elizabeth Tower refurbishment project, Big Ben should only sound for Remembrance Sunday, Armistice Day and New Year's Eve, to allow the project team to schedule works around those occasions. The Commission reconfirmed the decision in 2018. However, should MPs decide in the Commons Chamber to change this, the House of Commons Commission would, of course, respond accordingly.

There has been a suggestion that the cost of striking the Bell could be covered by donations made by the public. This would be an unprecedented approach. The House of Commons has well established means of voting through the expenditure required to allow it to function, and to preserve its constitutional position in relation to Government. Any novel form of funding would need to be consistent with principles of propriety and proper oversight of public expenditure.

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