Thatcher's coffin heads to parliament

2013-04-16 15:02
(File, AFP)

(File, AFP)

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London - Margaret Thatcher's coffin was to be taken to Britain's Houses of Parliament on Tuesday, allowing lawmakers to pay their last respects to the former prime minister ahead of her funeral.

As Thatcher requested when she planned her own funeral, her body will remain overnight in a chapel at the Palace of Westminster in central London, where she served for more than half a century in both the lower and upper houses.

Her coffin will be taken from the chapel on Wednesday for the ceremonial funeral with full military honours, a send-off not seen for a politician since the funeral of World War II prime minister Winston Churchill in 1965.

Thatcher, one of the giants of post-war Western politics, died on 8 April following a stroke. She was 87 and had been in frail health for some years.

Former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger led the latest list of guests for the funeral, to be held in St Paul's Cathedral at 11:00 on Wednesday.

Former US vice-president Dick Cheney, king Constantine II of Greece, Britain's last Hong Kong governor Chris Patten, London 2012 Games chairperson Sebastian Coe and former US presidential candidate Ross Perot are also due to attend, Prime Minister David Cameron's office said.

Bitter left-wingers

Cameron, Thatcher's successor-but-four as leader of the Conservative Party, said last week her epitaph should be that she "made Britain great again" during her three terms in office from 1979 to 1990.

However, left-wingers remain bitter about her free-market reforms that brought sweeping changes to Britain's industrial landscape.

Left-wing firebrands said they would castigate her legacy in the House of Commons chamber, even as her body rests in the parliamentary chapel.

George Galloway, best-known internationally for his involvement in Arab affairs, opposed a motion on Monday that would have cancelled Cameron's weekly question-and-answer session on Wednesday and delay the start of Commons proceedings until after the funeral has finished.

That meant the government had to set aside three hours on Tuesday to debate the motion.

"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," Galloway said.

Royal peculiar

"I will have a lot to say," he warned.

Labour veteran Dennis Skinner, who had memorable clashes with Thatcher across the Commons floor, also opposed the motion.

However the motion to cancel the session is certain to pass, on the votes of other MPs.

Thatcher's body was to arrive at parliament at 16:00 to rest overnight in the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft.

Like Westminster Abbey, the chapel is a royal peculiar, falling under the jurisdiction of the monarch as head of the Church of England rather than a bishop.

On its arrival, there was to be a short service to receive the body, attended by around 100 people made up of Thatcher's relatives, senior parliamentarians, plus lawmakers and staff who worked closely with the former premier.

Paying respects

The congregation was expected to include housekeepers who looked after her parliamentary office.

The 13th-century crypt was then to open from 17:00 to 21:00 to allow lawmakers and parliamentary staff to pay their respects.

While Thatcher was Britain's first female prime minister, the woman tipped to become one of the Church of England's first female bishops - if the rules are changed - will stand watch by her coffin overnight.

Reverend Rose Hudson-Wilkin, the Jamaican-born speaker's chaplain who ministers to lawmakers, will keep vigil.

Thatcher was first elected to represent suburban Finchley in north London in 1959, and remained the local MP until she entered the upper House of Lords in 1992 as a life member.

Read more on:    margaret thatcher  |  david cameron  |  uk
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