16 Apr 2013

Thatcher makes final journey to Westminster

The body of Baroness Thatcher is lying in the chapel at parliament for a private service ahead of her funeral tomorrow.

Soldiers rehearse for Lady Thatcher's funeral

Family members and senior figures from the House of Commons and the Lords will later attend the service at the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft.

The rest of the seats have been offered to members and staff of both houses who knew or worked closely with the former prime minister or served her in a personal capacity.

After the service, the chapel will remain open for MPs and peers to pay their respects and the speaker’s chaplain, the Rev Rose Hudson-Wilkin, will maintain a vigil throughout the night.

Her coffin will leave the Palace of Westminster in a hearse tomorrow morning before being transferred to a gun carriage for the final leg of its journey to St Paul’s Cathedral.

US president Barack Obama will send a presidential delegation. Downing Street said US vice president Dick Cheney and ex-secretary of state Henry Kissinger will attend the funeral.

Tomorrow will also see a potentially angry debate in the Commons after Respect MP George Galloway objected to a motion cancelling prime minister’s questions so David Cameron and other MPs can attend the funeral.

Objections from Mr Galloway and the veteran Labour left-winger Dennis Skinner means the proposed change will now be voted on after a debate lasting up to three hours.

Mr Galloway said: “This was a wicked and divisive woman who was hated by half of the country and did great damage to a society she said didn’t exist.

“People think the canonisation of Lady Thatcher has gone on long enough. The muffling of the chimes of Big Ben is a step too far and now Mr Cameron will miss prime minister’s questions for four weeks. It is unconscionable.

“It was indicated to me that no disrespectful contributions would be tolerated in the debate last week so … I will have a lot to say.”

The news that the chimes of Westminster’s Great Clock would fall silent during the funeral was described as a “great honour” by Lady Thatcher’s children.

They said in a statement: “Sir Mark and Carol Thatcher would like to express their appreciation for the great honour accorded to their mother by the announcement this afternoon by the speaker of the House of Commons that Big Ben and the Great Clock will fall silent during Wednesday’s funeral.

“They are deeply conscious that this tribute was last paid to Sir Winston Churchill in 1965.”

The Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, the Very Rev Dr David Ison, has spoken of the “hurt and anger” caused by Baroness Thatcher’s policies.

Dr Ison, who will give the bidding at the cathedral service, told CNN: “You have to ask yourself the question why it is, 23 years after she left government, Margaret Thatcher is still such a controversial figure and I think part of the answer is we still haven’t come to terms with the hurt and anger many parts of society have felt because of the legacy of her policies.”