Margaret Thatcher opposed Aids public education campaign, government files reveal

Margaret Thatcher opposed calls for a major public education campaign to prevent an Aids epidemic, newly published files reveal.

The former Prime Minister suggested alerting teenagers to the dangers of "risky sex" could backfire and cause "immense harm".

She only backed down after a series of warnings that hundreds of thousands could become infected unless people, particularly gay men and drug users, were persuaded to change their lifestyles.

The papers were released by the National Archives at Kew for the first time on Wednesday.

As concerns grew about Aids during the 1980s, a newspaper advertising campaign was proposed by health secretary Norman Fowler setting out advice on "safe sex".

However, the papers show Mrs Thatcher rejected the idea, particularly a section entitled: "What is risky sex?"

In a handwritten note, she said: "Do we have to do the section on risky sex? I should have thought it could do immense harm if young teenagers were to read it."

Former health secretary Norman Fowler proposed a newspaper campaign to promote safe sex. Credit: PA

Mrs Thatcher suggested the advert could even breach the Obscene Publications Act and proposed a more limited campaign based on previous public information campaigns on "venereal disease".

"I think the anxiety on the part of parents and many teenagers who would never be in danger from Aids, exceeds the good it may do," she wrote.

"It would be better in my view to follow the 'VD' precedent of putting notices in surgeries, public lavatories etc. But adverts where every young person will read and hear of practices they never knew about will do harm."

However, Mr Fowler insisted that if the advice was not included the advert would lose "all its medical authority and credibility".

When deputy prime minister William Whitelaw told her there was no support for her objections among ministers, she was forced to give in.

Mrs Thatcher then opposed Mr Fowler's suggestion of following up the adverts with information leaflets, but was again forced to back down after being warned she was out of step with the public mood.