MPs to 'bow their heads' as Big Ben is silenced

Bethany Minelle, News Reporter

A group of MPs will gather outside the Palace of Westminster "with heads bowed" as they witness Big Ben's final bongs, ahead of four years of renovations.

The bells will fall silent at midday, despite a backlash from Theresa May and other MPs over the length of time the chimes will be out of action.

Labour MP Stephen Pound said he hoped at least 20 "like-minded traditionalists" would gather to witness the halting of the bongs.

The Ealing North MP said that a small group would congregate in the courtyard outside the members' entrance "gazing up at this noble, glorious edifice… with heads bowed but hope in our hearts".

Attacking the renovation timetable last week, the Prime Minister said: "Of course we want to ensure people's safety at work but it can't be right for Big Ben to be silent for four years."

Following her comments, Parliament said it would review the plans to silence the chimes for what would be the longest period in its 157-year history.

The 13.7-ton Great Bell was last stopped for maintenance in 2007, and before that was halted for two years in 1983 for refurbishment.

One concession being considered by the House of Commons Commission - which is responsible for the maintenance of the Palace of Westminster - is to allow the bell to chime on special occasions, such as New Year's Eve.

During the work, the clock that drives the bell will be dismantled, overhauled and tested - and that will take at least two years.

The clock's hands, mechanism and pendulum will also be repaired and a lift will be installed in Elizabeth Tower.

The process to reinstate the chimes during hours when work is not being carried out takes about half a day, making it unlikely that the bongs will be back in action in between repairs.

One working clock face - powered by a modern electric motor - will remain visible at all times, telling the time silently.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said that silencing the bell was "not a national disaster or catastrophe" - and said it would be worth it so renovators can work in safe conditions.

Parliamentary officials say that workers' hearing would be put at "serious risk" if the 118-decibel bongs continued, and warned those using the 100m (328ft) high scaffolding could also be startled by the noise.

A Commons' spokeswoman said a final decision on the future of the bongs will be made in the autumn.

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