Stop all the clocks: Big Ben to be silenced for Thatcher funeral

Big Ben will be stopped for the duration of Margaret Thatcher's funeral, the Speaker of the Commons has confirmed.

The announcement came after John Bercow received several formal and informal demands for recognition from parliament of the funeral event, which will take place on Wednesday.

"I have considered all of these and concluded the most appropriate means of indicating our sentiments would be for the chimes of Big Ben and the Great Clock to be silenced for the duration of funeral proceedings," Bercow told the Commons this afternoon.

"I believe there can be a profound dignity and deep respect communicated through silence."

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said parliamentarians would be "hugely appreciative" of the decision.

The move is likely to be praised by Conservative MPs but will add to concerns that Thatcher's funeral now amounts to a state occasion in all but name.

Meanwhile, parliamentary opposition to plans for Wednesday's arrangements grew. George Galloway said he intended to frustrate David Cameron's demand for PMQs to be cancelled.

The Respect MP said he planned to try and block a government motion dropping the session and delaying the start of business until 14:30 BST, once the funeral is over.

"It really is imperative that the prime minister is questioned, among other things, about his decision to impose a quite unnecessary and expensive early return of parliament which was simply a hideous outpouring of right-wing eulogies and rants doused in crocodile tears," he wrote on his website.

"I'm glad to see that, like me, more than 100 Labour MPs stayed away from the circus."

Ministers expected the motion to go through 'on the nod' at the end of Commons business but Galloway intends to shout 'object' and trigger a debate and vote.

Labour is supporting the government's move so it will easily survive any vote put to it but Galloway's resistance is a sign of disgruntlement among MPs at the approach to Thatcher's death adopted by the Conservative leadership.

Sally Bercow, a Labour supporter and wife of the Speaker, put out a statement yesterday saying she would not be attending the event.

"As Commons Speaker, John will be attending the funeral – and rightly so. But I'm not obliged to participate in my husband's public life – last time I looked, this was the 21st century! John holds public office and an important position, not me," she said.

"Although I'm genuinely sorry that Baroness Thatcher has passed away, I'm not going to be a hypocrite and join in this attempted canonisation of her."

She also suggested someone in the No 10 team had leaked her non-attendance to the press in a bid to make trouble for her husband.

"I'm astonished that Cameron's people haven't got better things to do," she said.

"It's a predictably pathetic attempt to cause trouble for the Speaker – which has utterly failed – and a complete non-story. Margaret Thatcher wouldn't have given a monkey's whether or not I attended her funeral."

Many MPs are still smarting from the price tag of recalling parliament last Wednesday for a debate on the former prime minister, even though it was tabled to return today.