Tony Benn to spend last night in parliament

Wednesday 19 March 2014 19.52
Tony Benn died last week at the age of 88
Tony Benn died last week at the age of 88

The family of British politician Tony Benn have welcomed the chance for him to "spend his last night in Parliament" after royal permission was granted for his body to rest in the Palace of Westminster.

A vigil will be kept by Commons Speaker John Bercow's chaplain beside the coffin in the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft during the night before the Labour politician's funeral on 27 March.

It is an honour for a politician previously afforded only to former prime minister Baroness Thatcher - though the left-wing ex-cabinet minister will not have a ceremonial funeral as she did.

Mr Bercow believes it is a fitting tribute given the "almost unique" record at Westminster of Mr Benn whose death last week at the age of 88 was greeted with many and varied tributes.

"Tony Benn's time as an MP spanned more than 50 years and he is one of only two MPs to be awarded the freedom of the House in recognition of his very long and distinguished service as an MP," Mr Bercow's spokeswoman said.

"It is this almost unique distinction which forms the basis for Tony Benn to be accorded the privilege to 'rest' in the chapel on the eve of his funeral."

The funeral will take place opposite parliament at St Margaret's Church.

The Speaker's chaplain, the Reverend Rose Hudson-Wilkin, has agreed to keep a vigil and there will be a private gathering of family members.

"The family were deeply touched by the Speaker's suggestion and would like to thank all those who have made it possible for their father to spend his last night in Parliament," a family spokesman said.

David Cameron and Ed Miliband delivered formal tributes to Mr Benn in the Commons, the Labour leader describing him as "an iconic figure of our age".

MPs will discuss his life and legacy in a debate led by Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg tomorrow.