Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 21 October 2014

700 forces at Thatcher's funeral

The funeral of Baroness Thatcher will be held next Wednesday
The Union Flag is lowered to half mast at the Houses of Parliament after the death of Baroness Thatcher
A man lays a bunch of flowers outside the home of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in Belgravia, London, following her death

More than 700 armed forces personnel drawn from all three services will take part in the funeral of Baroness Thatcher, Downing Street has said.

Lady Thatcher's coffin will be carried into into St Paul's Cathedral by bearers from units particularly associated with the Falklands War. Prime Minister David Cameron's official spokesman confirmed that details of the cost to the public purse would be published after next Wednesday's service has taken place.

In a reflection of Lady Thatcher's strong association with the armed forces, members of the Honourable Artillery Company will fire procession minute guns from Tower Wharf at the Tower of London. Personnel from all three services will line the funeral route, while three military bands play - their drums draped in black as a mark of respect.

No 10 strongly defended the decision to recall MPs to Westminster on day so that they can pay tribute to the former prime minister, despite criticism from some in the Labour Party.

"Given her stature and importance, the Prime Minister thought that the right thing to do was to ask the Speaker to recall Parliament," said Mr Cameron's official spokesman. "Attendance is a matter for individual Members of Parliament. In terms of the Prime Minister, and I am sure a good many other MPs, it is an important opportunity to pay tribute to Lady Thatcher."

Former Labour minister John Healey however accused Mr Cameron of trying to exploit the funeral for political purposes and said that he would be among those staying away. "He's wrong to recall Parliament, and wrong to hijack it in this way. I will play no part and I will stay away, with other things to do at home in the constituency," he said.

In contrast, former prime minister Tony Blair confirmed that he would be among the mourners at St Paul's together with his wife, Cherie. His successor, Gordon Brown, said he would also be attending with his wife, Sarah, although he will not be in Parliament today owing to a prior commitment in France.

No 10 said it expected to disclose details of the foreign dignitaries attending in the coming days.

Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude today chaired a further co-ordinating meeting for the funeral arrangements. Representatives of Lady Thatcher attended together with officials from No 10, Buckingham Palace, St Paul's Cathedral, the Ministry of Defence, the Foreign Office and the Metropolitan Police.

Further books of condolences are to be opened at the Guildhall and St Margaret's Church, Westminster, alongside those in the Finchley and Golders Green Conservative Association in her old constituency and at the museum in her home town of Grantham. Mr Cameron's spokesman confirmed that a "contribution" to the cost of the funeral would be made from Lady Thatcher's estate, but said no details of the public funding would be made until after it had taken place.

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