Silencing Big Ben necessary to protect workers, says TUC

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Fireworks explode around Big Ben in London to mark New YearcelebrationsImage copyright Getty Images
Image caption The bells will still sound to mark New Year celebrations

Silencing the chimes of Big Ben while repair works take place is “common sense”, the TUC has said.

The trade union body spoke out after newspapers criticised the decision to silence the chimes for four years to protect workers’ hearing.

And cabinet minister David Davis said he could not understand the move.

But TUC health and safety officer Hugh Robertson said: “Protecting workers’ hearing is far from ‘health and safety gone mad.'”

The bongs will sound for the final time at 12:00 BST on Monday before being disconnected to allow the clock and surrounding tower to be restored.

Brexit Secretary Mr Davis said there was “hardly a health and safety argument” for silencing the bells.

“I think it’s mad,” he told LBC radio.

“I’d forgotten of course, I’ve been out of government for a lot of years, and I’ve forgotten how long it takes to get the approvals for this and the approvals for that.

“There’s a sort of rude phrase which I will shorten to ‘just get on with it’.

“When I was in business, it was my standard line, just get on, just do it, don’t faff.”

Image caption The Daily Mail said that where the Luftwaffe failed during World War Two, “health and safety is about to succeed”

The Telegraph reported on a “backlash” from other MPs and columnist Frances Wilson wrote: “Silencing Big Ben is like stopping the heartbeat of our democracy.”

An article in the Daily Mail said: “Not even Nazi bombs could silence the famous symbol of Britishness.

“But having marked the hour with almost unbroken service since 1859, the Great Bell’s bongs will soon cease for four years – because of health and safety.”

But Mr Robertson said: “We know August is silly season, but today’s headlines just don’t ring true.

“When all 14 tonnes of Big Ben bongs near you, you’ll know it. At nearly 120 decibels, it’s like putting your ear next to a police siren.”

The Great Bell, which has sounded on the hour for 157 years, last fell silent in 2007 and before that, for major refurbishments between 1983 and 1985.

It will still sound for important events including New Year and Remembrance Sunday.

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