POLITICS

Big Ben To Fall Silent For Margaret Thatcher's Funeral, John Bercow Announces

15/04/2013 15:46 BST | Updated 15/04/2013 18:46 BST

Updated: 18:34 - poll results and Thatcher relatives comments added

Big Ben will fall silent for the duration of Margaret Thatcher's funeral on Wednesday, it has been announced.

Commons Speaker John Bercow told MPs on Monday: "The most appropriate means of indicating our sentiments would be for the chimes of Big Ben and the chimes of the great clock to be silent for the duration of the funeral proceedings."

He added: "I believe there can be a profound dignity and deep respect expressed in and through silence."

Some Conservative MPs had initially suggested allowing Big Ben to chime 87 times in a row on Wednesday, once for each year of the former prime minister's life.

Bournemouth West MP Conor Burns, a friend of Thatcher, said: "I love the idea of Big Ben tolling 87 times next Wednesday as Lady T leaves Westminster for the last time. Margaret would love it also."

However it has been reported that the idea was vetoed by Thatcher's family.

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude, who is in charge of the funeral arrangements, welcomed the Speaker's decision and told the Commons that Thatcher held parliament in "very great reverence".

"I am confident that this will be seen as a very dignicied and respectful gesture on the part of parliament," he said. "I am confident Lady Thatcher's family will take it in that spirit."

Baroness Thatcher's children Sir Mark and Carol Thatcher said they appreciated the "great honour" and issued a statement expressing their gratitude.

They 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."

It is extremely rare for Big Ben to be silenced. It last happened for Churchill's funeral in 1965.

Downing Street has defended to the cost of the ceremonial funeral, arguing it would be "pretty extraordinary" if Thatcher was not given a high-profile ceremony.

Some MPs, including left-wing firebrand George Galloway, have questioned whether it is appropriate to spend so much public money on such a divisive figure.

However, it seems the majority of people think it would be wrong to protest at the funeral, according to a poll.

The survey found 61% of British adults think it is wrong and just 26% thought it was right to take action, although 39% accepted that people were entitled to protest if they wanted to.

The ComRes poll for ITV News at Ten found 65% agreed that the police should stop any protest from disrupting the funeral.

Two-thirds of the population (66%) believed that celebrating someone's death was inappropriate.

More than half (54%) said they were not interested in watching coverage of the funeral, with just 28% intending to tune in to view the ceremonial occasion.