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Big Ben will still bong for New Year’s Eve and other big national events in Britain’s calendar, it was confirmed today.
The bells have been silenced as part of a controversial multi-million pound renovation plan that will stop it ringing out daily for up to four years.
Parliament bowed to pressure last week when it announced it would review the plans, which will silence the bell for the longest period in its 157-year history, after Prime Minister Theresa May joined an MPs’ outcry against the move.
And a spokeswoman for the Commons today confirmed to the Standard that the bells will ring in the New Year and toll for Remembrance Day, as well as any other important national events.
She added that so far those two events are the only two in the 2017 calendar for which Big Ben has been scheduled to bong.
The Elizabeth Tower is famous for its melodic Westminster Quarters tune and chimes at midnight on New Year’s Eve, accompanied by a countdown and firework display over the River Thames. Its bongs also signal the two minute’s silence on Armistice Day.
Crowds began gathering outside the Palace of Westminster on Monday morning to hear the final bongs of the Elizabeth Tower.
The 13.7-tonne Great Bell was last stopped for maintenance in 2007. Prior to that, Big Ben was halted for two years in 1983 for refurbishment, but has been stopped on a number of other occasions since it first sounded in 1859.
Hundreds of people watching from inside the parliamentary estate and outside its perimeter clapped and cheered as noon was struck.
Labour’s Stephen Pound said it was a “desperately sad” moment and said the decision showed a “real poverty of imagination”.
He had previously vowed to mark the event by standing with a bowed head.
In a jocular move the Ealing North MP reached for a handkerchief and dabbed at his eyes as the bell tolled, before conceding the backlash had become a little over the top.
Asked if was partly responsible for that, he replied: “In my small way to contribute to the chimes of freedom ringing out, I put my hand up.”
“In many ways I think we are in danger of losing something that we don’t actually realise and value enough at the moment.”
Parliamentary officials have insisted workers’ hearing would be put at “serious risk” if the bell continued chiming.
They warned that those using the 100-metre-high scaffolding around the tower could also be startled by the 118-decibel bongs.
The House of Commons Commission – which is made up of MPs, officials, lay members, and chaired by Speaker John Bercow – will review the timescale for repairs when Parliament returns after the summer break.
Liberal Democrat Tom Brake, who answers his colleagues’ questions on the Commission’s behalf, said one concession could be allowing Big Ben to chime on more special occasions.
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