Men could be prosecuted for buying sex under government plans to overhaul the law on prostitution.
Harriet Harman, the Women's minister, is backing the move in an effort to tackle the growing trade in sex trafficking.
Current laws criminalise prostitutes and pimps, rather than their customers, but Ms Harman is calling for the law to target men who pay for sex.
Ministers are to visit Sweden, where using prostitutes has been made illegal, to see how the change in the law has affected the sex trade.
Ms Harman, Labour's deputy leader, said: "Unless you tackle the demand side of human trafficking which is fuelling this trade, we will not be able to protect women from it. That is what they've done in Sweden. My own personal view is that's what we need to do as a next step.
"Do we think it's right in the 21st century that women should be in a sex trade, or do we think it's exploitation and should be banned? Just because something has always gone on, it doesn't mean you just wring your hands and say 'there's nothing we can do about it'."
Research suggests that as many as 85 per cent of the estimated 80,000 prostitutes in Britain are foreign, many of whom have been smuggled into the country.Reuse content