MARGARET Thatcher bitterly resisted calls for a major public education campaign to counter the threat of an Aids epidemic, newly released Government files reveal.
The Prime Minister repeatedly raised objections, warning that alerting teenagers to the dangers of “risky sex” could backfire and cause “immense harm”.
She only backed down after advisers warned hundreds of thousands could become infected by the virus unless people were persuaded to change their lifestyles.
The first case of Aids in the UK was recorded in 1981 and there was growing public awareness of the spread of the disease by 1986
But Mrs Thatcher was horrified when health secretary Norman Fowler proposed a newspaper advertising campaign setting out advice on “safe sex”.
She objected in particular to a section entitled “What is risky sex?”, saying it could breach the Obscene Publications Act.
She told Mr Fowler: “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.”
But Mr Fowler insisted the advert would lose “all its medical authority and credibility” unless the advice was included – particularly in relation to gay men.
He said: “Given that there is no vaccine and no cure, the only option open is public education.
“No one is condoning these practices – quite the contrary; but they exist and are one of the ways by which Aids spreads.”
And the Iron Lady was forced to give in when she was told other ministers did not support her objections.
But she again dug in her heels when Mr Fowler suggested following up the adverts with information leaflets sent to every home in the country.
Officials suggested she was out of step with public opinion – even though there had only been 512 cases in the UK at that time.
Bernard Ingham, her press secretary, said: “There is certainly a feeling abroad that the Government is doing too little and is not treating the issue with sufficient urgency.
“There is also a feeling that the Prime Minister is acting as a brake on educational publicity.”