British politicians returned early from an Easter recess today to pay tribute to former prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

Prime Minister David Cameron led praise for Mrs Thatcher during a special session of the House of Commons, recalled after the former leader's death on Monday at the age of 87.

Mr Cameron offered up a mixture of anecdotes and praise for Mrs Thatcher's "remarkable" career.

"Let this be her epitaph: That she made our country great again," he told a packed room of MPs.

The special sessions at the House of Commons are usual for former prime ministers, but are generally brief.

More than seven hours have been set aside for Mrs Thatcher, a reflection of her status as one of Britain's most iconic political figures and one whose legacy still sparks furious debate.

Politicians hailed a string of Mrs Thatcher's achievements, from privatisation of cumbersome state-run industries to reclaiming the Falkland Islands after Argentina's 1982 invasion.

Amid the tributes, some MPs brought up the negative effects of her free-market economic policies - unemployment, shuttered industries, frayed social bonds.

Labour Party leader Ed Miliband, said Mrs Thatcher was "a unique and towering figure ... the prime minister who defined her age," although he said he disagreed with much of what she did as prime minister.

Scottish and Northern Irish nationalist MPs spoke of deep wounds that have not healed.

Several left-wing MPs skipped the session altogether, including former housing minister John Healey, who said Mrs Thatcher's "legacy is too bitter to warrant this claim to national mourning".

Division over her record has spilled over into debate about the public expense of her 17 April funeral at St Paul's Cathedral, which will be attended by Queen Elizabeth II and dignitaries from around the world.

The only other funeral of a prime minister that the queen has attended was that of Winston Churchill in 1965.