Online pornography should be restricted in the same way that access to top-shelf magazines and sex shops is to stop children viewing the content, the Culture Secretary has said.
Karen Bradley told MPs action must be taken to tackle the “incredible problem” of young people under the age of 18 viewing adult images on the internet.
The Government’s Digital Economy Bill would require companies to introduce suitable age verification measures for online pornography with websites that fail to comply hit by financial penalties.
However, there are concerns about how the new rules would apply to websites that do not charge people for access to content and those based overseas.
Ms Bradley said: “We have an incredible problem of pornographic images being available to children.
“The NSPCC report that children as young as seven are being treated for addiction to pornography.
“This is not something that can be addressed through one measure alone and the measures in this Bill will help to work but this is not a silver bullet.”
She continued: “We age classify films, we restrict age inappropriate broadcasts to after the watershed, we put age inappropriate magazines on the top shelf and we keep children out of sex shops.
“Equivalent and proportionate measures are needed online.”
Shadow culture minister Chi Onwurah said she welcomed the proposed increased protections for children as MPs debated the Bill at second reading.
But she said Labour would seek to make the measures more practical and effective.
“We need to see parents give more information about protecting their children and critically compulsory sex and relationship education in our schools so we can teach young people about healthy relationships,” she added.
Tom Brake, the Lib Dem MP for Carshalton and Wallington, echoed the call for sex education to be made compulsory in schools as he queried how the online protection measures would work in practice.
Intervening on Ms Onwurah, he said: “I agree with you that denying children access to online pornography is essential and so also is ensuring the privacy of adult users of legal adult sites and ensuring the Government’s solution works.
“Do you have a clear idea how this Bill will deal with foreign sites and free sites?”
Ms Onwurah said there was “not a clear idea” about how the Bill would deal with such sites.
The Bill also sets out plans to introduce a new universal service obligation for broadband access which would give consumers the legal right to a fast connection.
Ms Bradley said the Bill would act as a “safety net” to guarantee at least a minimum connection speed of 10 megabits per second by 2020.
“The Government will not allow people to be left behind,” she said.
Former culture secretary John Whittingdale, who helped draw up the Bill, admitted it did not address certain issues including how porn sites would verify a user’s age.
He said: “The Bill doesn’t specify how you verify age, and I have to say I’m not entirely clear how the providers are going to do it at all.
“There are going to be concerns, it will not be sufficient to have a box saying ‘are you 18 please tick here’.
“On the other hand if you require the user to submit a credit card number, that potentially does raise big issues of privacy.
“And we have to bear in mind that the content that is being accessed is perfectly legal.
“Of course it is right that children should be prevented from accessing it, because that can be harmful, but for adults this is legal content.