The government is prepared to introduce statutory regulation of the press if newspapers fail to create an effective regulatory regime themselves, Culture Secretary Maria Miller has said.
Opening a full day's debate on Lord Justice Leveson's inquiry into media standards on 3 December 2012, Mrs Miller said: "We all agree that the status quo is not an option. It is the responsibility of this House to ensure that whatever is put in place is effective."
She told MPs the government had a "grave concern" about Lord Leveson's proposal that a new independent self-regulatory body for newspapers should be backed by law.
"We do not believe that it is necessary", she said, since it was possible for the industry to create of its own accord a new regulator that was "truly independent", would set the highest journalistic standards, and would have powers to investigate wrong-doing.
But she suggested that the government would legislate if new regulatory proposals fell short of expectations.
In response to an intervention from former Labour home secretary Jack Straw, Mrs Miller said: "Yes, we will take action... if action is not taken as requested [by the press] in terms of putting together a self-regulatory approach. That... would include legislation."
Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman argued that limited legislation was needed whatever the form of the new regulatory regime for the press.
"We need statute because the current system of self-regulation has failed," she said.
Ms Harman explained: "All the statute would have to do is set out criteria about what independence means and check once every three years that it is still independent. That is all it is.
"The oversight body, the one prescribed by statute, that body would have no role in hearing complaints, no role in deciding whether they are justified, no role in laying down penalties and will have absolutely no role on anything that does or does not go into a newspaper."
But Conservative MP John Whittingdale, who chairs the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, warned: "Starting to legislate over the press would be a huge step for us to take."
The Conservative frontbench is at odds with its coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, and Labour over how Lord Justice Leveson's findings should be implemented.
Lord Justice Leveson's 2,000-page
follows an inquiry that began in November 2011 and heard from over 200 witnesses.
To view part two of the debate click