Galloway intervention triggers new Thatcher debate

The Commons was set for a far more divisive debate about Margaret Thatcher today after George Galloway managed to trigger a session on whether to cancel PMQs during the former prime minister's funeral.

The Respect MP and left wing Labour veteran Dennis Skinner both shouted "object" when the plans were read out to parliament yesterday, triggering today's debate.

Plans to cancel PMQs and push back parliamentary business until 14:30 BST will certainly go ahead because they have Labour support, but the debate gives anti-Thatcher MPs an opportunity to attack her legacy in terms which would not have been tolerated during the recall debate last week.

"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," Galloway said.

"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."

Labour MP John Mann also hardened his position over the funeral, as more left-wingers started expressing their discomfort with the perceived 'canonisation' of the former PM and the use of taxpayers' money for the funeral.

"The question is how respects are paid, of course it's right that respects are paid to people who have died, and if they are national leaders then the nation should duly do so and I think that's quite appropriate," he told Daybreak.

"But spending £10 million plus on a funeral for a divisive politician is wrong in my opinion wrong."

Many commentators became exasperated yesterday when Speaker John Bercow informed MPs Big Ben would fall silent during the funeral – the first time it has done so purposefully since the funeral of Winston Churchill.

The move was warmly welcomed by Thatcher's children, however.

"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 said in a statement.

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

Thatcher's body was moved to the Palace of Westminster this afternoon, where it will rest in the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft overnight.

There will be a short service by the dean of Westminster including about 100 members of the family, senior figures from the Commons and the Lords and staff in parliament and Downing Street who knew Thatcher well.