Internet companies are to be forced to shield children from internet pornography by automatically blocking access to explicit websites.
Government ministers are backing the idea of an “opt-in” system meaning that users wishing to view explicit websites would have to request access.
Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt has warned internet service providers that they must make the change voluntarily, or face tough new laws.
He has given providers until the autumn to develop a solution based on one which is already used to restrict access to paedophile websites.
Mr Hunt said: “If internet service providers do not bring forward measures that will deal with this issue fast, we will legislate and regulate.”
Claire Perry, the Conservative MP who championed the scheme, said that providers should “share the responsibility” of protecting children.
“The best option would be for the British internet service providers to come up with their own opt-in model and we know they can do it – they worked together brilliantly to block access to child abuse websites,” the mother-of-three said.
“But if they won’t act or are moving too slowly, then I really welcome Jeremy Hunt’s commitment to legislating to sort this out.”
And Sheila Eaton, president of the National Council of Women, said: “Children as young as eight are accessing porn. Something needs to be done now.”
Under the proposed system, pornographic sites will be blocked until an adult user in the home requests access.
Alternatively, a movie-style rating system could be used that would only allow adult users to view such sites.
Earlier this year a national newspaper columnist warned that widespread exposure to “crude and debasing” pornography was affecting everyone in society.
Sandra Parsons, writing in the Daily Mail, cautioned about “so many men, including young boys” using modern technology to access “vile images of extreme porn”.
The commentator warned: “Exposure to this stuff has a well-documented numbing effect.”