BBC News: Election 2010 BBC News

Page last updated at 12:06 GMT, Wednesday, 3 March 2010

SNP and Labour clash over TV election debates

Nick Clegg, David Cameron, Gordon Brown
Each leader will get a chance to speak first in a debate

The SNP and Labour have clashed over the rules for live prime ministerial debates in the run-up to the election.

The Nationalists said the BBC has unfairly excluded the party, which forms the Scottish government.

BBC, ITV and Sky and the three main UK political parties have now agreed the rules for the live debates.

The SNP has not ruled out the threat of legal action over the issue, but Labour said SNP leader Alex Salmond was not standing for prime minister.

The three 90-minute debates, featuring Labour's Gordon Brown, Tory David Cameron and Lib Dem Nick Clegg, will begin by focusing on domestic policies, international affairs and the economy.

Party exposure

Studio audiences will then be able to ask direct questions on any subject, with viewers doing the same via e-mail.

The BBC will hold separate party leader election debates in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and other parties will be able to respond to the debates during subsequent news programmes.

SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson said his party was looking at "all the options" to address its concerns, but told the BBC's Good Morning Scotland programme it would not try to prevent the debates from going ahead.

He said it was unacceptable for the licence fee-funded BBC to exclude Scotland's most popular political party from the leader debates.

"This is a matter of basic fairness in the run up to a general election and the BBC has decided to give an hour-and-a-half of exposure to the leaders of the three UK political parties each in the run up to the election - and has made not a single proposal to give balance to the SNP in the run-up to polling day," he said.

But former Scotland office minister David Cairns dismissed the SNP's concerns.

He said: "I can't think of a single election anywhere in the world at any time where somebody who wasn't even a candidate in that election actually wanted to take part in a live televised debate - Alex Salmond is not standing for this election in Westminster."

The Labour MP added: "In the UK parliament, which has got 650 seats, the SNP hold seven. In the UK parliament, the SNP are a fringe, minority party."

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