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UK Politics

Margaret Thatcher's body to be moved to Westminster chapel for private family service ahead of funeral

George Galloway and Dennis Skinner object to plans to delay start of Commons, which would cause the cancellation of Prime Minister's Questions

The body of Baroness Thatcher will make its final journey to Parliament today ahead of a potentially bitter debate in the Commons about her legacy.

The debate, triggered by outspoken left-winger George Galloway, will take place in the Chamber while the former prime minister's coffin lies nearby in Parliament's Chapel of St Mary Undercroft.

Respect MP Mr Galloway, who claimed he would have "a lot to say" about the "wicked and divisive" Conservative premier, objected to planned changes to the Commons' sitting times tomorrow to allow for Lady Thatcher's ceremonial funeral.

He also lashed out at the announcement that Big Ben would fall silent for the funeral, a move which Lady Thatcher's children welcomed as a "great honour".

The decision was taken to silence the famous London landmarks as a mark of respect to the UK's only female prime minister, who died last week aged 87.

The last time the chimes of Westminster's Great Clock were halted in this way was for the funeral of Sir Winston Churchill in 1965, although the bells were silenced for a period in the 1970s by a mechanical breakdown.

Lady Thatcher has been accorded a ceremonial funeral with military honours, one step down from a state funeral. Her body will rest overnight in the Palace of Westminster's Chapel of St Mary Undercroft. Scotland Yard have revealed that more than 4,000 police officers will be on duty.

Lady Thatcher's children issued a statement expressing their gratitude for the decision announced by Commons Speaker John Bercow.

The statement said: "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."

MPs had the chance to pay tribute to Lady Thatcher when Parliament was recalled at the request of Prime Minister David Cameron last week.

But Bradford West MP Mr Galloway said he was prevented from making a "disrespectful" contribution and would relish the chance to give his verdict on her time in office.

Along with Labour veteran Dennis Skinner he objected to a business motion which would see Prime Minister's Questions cancelled so that Mr Cameron and MPs can attend the funeral service at St Paul's Cathedral.

The pair's cry of "object" means the proposed change in sitting time 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."

There will be a private service for Lady Thatcher at the Chapel attended by her family and senior figures from both Houses of Parliament.

The rest of the seats in the historic Chapel have been offered to members and staff of both Houses who knew or worked closely with the former premier or served her in a personal capacity.

After the service, the Chapel will remain open for members of both Houses to pay their respects and the Speaker's Chaplain, the Rev Rose Hudson-Wilkin, will maintain a vigil through the night.

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

Meanwhile, it has been confirmed that former US vice president Dick Cheney and ex-secretary of state Henry Kissinger are to attend the funeral.

The pair do not form part of Barack Obama's official presidential delegation, which will be led by George Shultz and James Baker, who both served as secretary of states during the Thatcher era.

No members of the current White House administration are expected to attend though.