Thatcher: Falklands Units To Carry Coffin

Troops from units particularly associated with the Falklands War will carry Baroness Thatcher's coffin into St Paul's Cathedral next week.

More than 700 members of the armed forces, from all three services, will take part in the ceremonial funeral for the former prime minister.

Members of the Honourable Artillery Company will fire procession minute guns from Tower Wharf at the Tower of London.

Representatives of all three services will also line the funeral route, while three military bands play - their drums draped in black as a mark of respect.

A huge security operation costing millions is expected in central London during the ceremony, which will be attended by the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh.

But Downing Street is refusing to give details about how much the service next Wednesday will cost the taxpayer, saying this will be revealed after the funeral.

Plans for the ceremony have been dubbed Operation True Blue and Lady Thatcher is to be given full military honours.

Her son Mark arrived back in the UK from Spain on Wednesday morning to help finalise the plans and his sister Carol is also due home today.

Tony Blair and his wife Cherie as well as Gordon Brown and his wife Sarah will be at the ceremony, which will be one of the largest public funerals of recent decades.

Further details about the event came as MPs and peers were gathering in Westminster for a special debate following Lady Thatcher's death on Monday , aged 87.

The recall has also prompted criticism because of the cost to the taxpayer of bringing politicians back from their Easter holiday.

British soldiers in the Falkland Islands. The sudden invasion of the British territory by the ruling junta in Argentina was met with fierce and decisive action by Thatcher and British armed forces ... more 
British soldiers in the Falkland Islands. The sudden invasion of the British territory by the ruling junta in Argentina was met with fierce and decisive action by Thatcher and British armed forces (JOHN W JOCKEL / Rex Features) less 
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When the Commons reconvened in 2011 during the summer riots, the bill was £43,856 plus individual MPs' expenses.

And MPs who were abroad have already been told they can claim up to £3,750 each for returning to Westminster this week.

The special Commons session, which could last until 10pm, will be led by David Cameron with further statements from Labour leader Ed Miliband and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.

Its potential seven-and-a-half hour length is unorthodox as typically around an hour is spent to mark the death of a former prime minister.

When Edward Heath died in July 2005, MPs spent 63 minutes paying tributes.

Foreign Secretary William Hague defended the decision to recall Parliament after suggestions that tributes could easily have been paid when it reopened on Monday.

"It's right Parliament meets and commemorates such a leader of historic proportions in our country's history," he said.

"She changed the course of our history and there have been many comments over the last few days from all corners of the political spectrum."

Of the funeral costs, he added: "The rebate she negotiated for this country from the EU has brought us so far £75 billion - which is twice the size of our annual defence budget.

"I think that puts money in perspective ... so I think we can afford to contribute to a funeral."

Some Labour MPs have already said they will stay away from the debate but a senior party source insisted "large numbers" would be there.

"While she might have been a controversial figure, we respect her personal achievements and political strength," the source said.

Labour backbencher John Mann has already said he is staying away - claiming he will be "at the dentist".

John Healey, the former treasury and housing minister in the Blair and Brown years, is also planning to boycott the debate.

"Parliament is being used today for narrow political gain by the Prime Minister, as a platform for his party's ideology not just eulogy," he wrote on the PoliticsHome website.

Margaret Thatcher holds up a t-shirt with a humorous slogan (Rex Features)
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"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."

Respect MP George Galloway, who has been one of Baroness Thatcher's fiercest critics since her death, is furious about the session.

"It is a series of tributes at public expense - vast public expense if everyone turns up," he said.

"It is enough to make you sick. At least half the country hated and despised her but you have to show 'respect'."

Lady Thatcher, Britain's longest-serving prime minister and the only woman to have held the role, died at The Ritz on Monday morning after suffering a stroke.

Her death sparked an outpouring of tributes from across the globe, but there has also been anger at her controversial legacy.

Rupert Murdoch, chief executive of News Corporation, is the latest to praise her - hailing her role in facing down the trade unions.

Margaret Thatcher at the Conservative Party Conference in 1982, with the word 'resolute' behind her. She was famously known as the 'Iron Lady' due to her strong leadership style (Nils Jorgensen / Rex ... more 
Margaret Thatcher at the Conservative Party Conference in 1982, with the word 'resolute' behind her. She was famously known as the 'Iron Lady' due to her strong leadership style (Nils Jorgensen / Rex Features) less 
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"She put the economy on a sound footing, she ended a culture of crippling strikes, she encouraged entrepreneurs to come here and set up their businesses," he wrote in The Times, adding that he had been "inspired" by her leadership during his business life.

But there were further demonstrations in Belfast on Tuesday night as crowds gathered to celebrate her death.

Around 100 people disrupted traffic on the Falls Road, waving flags and sounding horns.

Meanwhile, an online book of condolence has already been signed by more than 1,000 people, a Downing Street spokesman said.

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