Former Conservative minister Michael Portillo has claimed that Margaret Thatcher was quite “liberal” about homosexuality – despite her divisive record.

Speaking on This Week, Mr Portillo – once touted as a possible leader of the Conservative Party himself – sought to defend the PM’s record.

The ex-politician was speaking about the death of cabinet minister Cecil Parkinson, who was initially forced out of office after impregnating his female secretary.

He said: “Many people would have an impression of Margaret Thatcher as a great prude – actually she wasn’t.

“She was rather liberal on sexual matters. For example, she was surrounded by gay people amongst her advisers.”

When Andrew Neil asked if she was aware of this fact, he added: “Oh yes, she knew.”

Under Thatcher’s leadership, the Tories passed Section 28 in 1988 – banning the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality in schools.

The PM was also criticised – even by her own former ministers – for her handling of the AIDS crisis, and insistence that not too much attention is given to the issue

Last year, newly-unsealed documents revealed that Margaret Thatcher personally tried to block all mention of anal sex in government advice adverts – claiming it could harm “public morals”.

Interfering in one ad campaign that made direct reference to gay sex, she wrote in a memo: “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.

“Adverts where every young person will read and hear of practices they never knew about will do harm.”

Former Health Minister Lord Fowler has also previously revealed that Thatcher warned him against becoming the “minister for AIDS”due to his work on the issue.