The proposals will lead to a greater number of films being banned from home viewing and could lead to a spate of court appeals from people who disagree with the censors' video ratings.
The changes were condemned by video retailers last night who believe they will threatening their livelihoods and be difficult to enforce. Distributors and retailers who breach the law and hire out 'ultra-violent' or any banned videos to the under-aged face prison sentences and fines.
Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, disclosed the changes in an 11th-hour compromise with David Alton, the Liberal Democrat, who was seeking tough restrictions on violent videos that might influence children. Mr Alton withdrew an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill that had threatened to defeat the Government in a vote last night.
One key decision is to make the classifications that the censors follow legally binding. They are now guidelines that the British Board of Film Classification have to consider. In future they will be compulsory and will include the wording of Mr Alton's own amendment, relating to videos that 'present an inappropriate model for children or are likely to cause psychological harm to a child'.
Despite what appears to be a climbdown by the Home Secretary, the censors are privately delighted because they will retain discretion to decide which films to cut and ban. James Ferman, director of the BBFC, said: 'The kind of videos that will be affected most are those containing mild horror or violence that might appeal to children. Films like Schindler's List or Dances With Wolves should not be at risk. We have to look at 'adult' films which children want to see.'
Mr Ferman said films like Child's Play 3, which despite the lack of evidence was linked to the murder of James Bulger, would be cut and given a higher classification because of its likely appeal to children. However, Under the new ruling, bodies such as the National Viewers' and Listeners' Association can press for videos to be banned by challenging censors' cuts and classifications at a judicial review.
The Home Office last night said it was confident that the cost and difficulty of mounting a court action would dissuade many from pursuing complaints.
Video retailers and distributors are extremely unhappy about the increased penalties - anyone who supplies a video to someone under-age could face a six-month jail sentence, rather than a fine. People renting banned 'video nasties' face two years in prison and an unlimited fine.Reuse content