School careers officers could suggest prostitution as a line of work for pupils, the Lib Dem conference has heard.
Dennis Parsons, the chairman of Cheltenham Liberal Democrats, floated the idea at a special session on sex work.
The Lib Dem said careers officers are not allowed to suggest prostitution, but added: “Why shouldn’t they?”
Lib Dem leader Tim Farron distanced himself from the remarks, but insisted he would not “slap down” the councillor for making them because people needed to be allowed to say “shocking things”.
During a discussion on how to combat the stigma attached to sex work, Parsons compared prostitution with accountancy.
He said: “The fact that we are asking ‘should we seek to prevent people entering sex work?’ is part of the problem. You wouldn’t ask the question ‘should we prevent people becoming accountants?’ You’d just take it for granted.
“There is a stronger case, probably, for that than there is for preventing sex work.
“We have had a chap suggest that one of the areas we need to be concerned about was families coercing people to go into the sex trade. Well, again, you wouldn’t protest at families urging and coercing people into becoming accountants.
“And even in this room full of liberals we have got a huge cultural problem that we do see sex work as different, and we see it as something a little bit tacky, and not quite nice, and not the sort of thing that we would want our sons and daughters to get involved in.
“We talk about schools - how many schools are going to have careers officers say to people, ‘have you thought about prostitution?’
“It’s not going to happen. And that’s a cultural thing. Why shouldn’t they? Why shouldn’t they?”
Farron told the Press Association: “It is a wonderful thing that we are in a party where those sort of views can be expressed and you can have that sort of exchange. They are certainly not my views.
“Drawing the equivalence between sex work and accountancy is not one that I share.
“I think we are in a position where we are a liberal party and it’s not for me to go telling anyone that they can’t have views and share them. That’s how you get to the bottom of these things.
“Actually, if you believe in education - we’re talking about careers - then what you really want is for people to be able to explore ideas, and that means sometimes saying things that are quite shocking, really.
“So, no, I’m not going to go slapping people down. The whole point of having a debate is that you test different opinions and you come out with, on the basis of the evidence, the right solution.”
Delegates heard that decriminalising prostitution would raise £1 billion a year for the Treasury in taxes.