Page last updated at 17:01 GMT, Saturday, 3 October 2009 18:01 UK

PM agrees to TV election debate

Prime Minister Gordon Brown: "These debates have got to take place"

Gordon Brown has confirmed he is willing "in principle" to take part in a TV debate ahead of the election.

On Labour's website, he said he wanted a series of debates on issues including the economy and foreign affairs.

The BBC, ITV and BSkyB jointly proposed three live debates between leaders of the three main political parties.

Tory leader David Cameron and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg welcomed the move, but the Scottish National Party has threatened to scupper it.

The party warned it would seek to block the screening in Scotland of any debate which did not include its leader, First Minister Alex Salmond.

The intervention potentially opens the door to similar demands from other smaller or devolved parties.

The broadcasters have said they would each seek "to make suitable arrangements for ensuring due impartiality across the UK", but have not yet explained how that would be achieved.

'Focus on debates'

In his letter to party members , Mr Brown said: "It is right that the parties debate the issues not just in Parliament but in every arena where the public will join in the discussion.

"It is right that we set the issues before the British people.

David Cameron: "I'm delighted"

"What's important for the country is that there is a wide ranging series of television and radio debates with party leaders that are also able to devote attention to the central issues that matter to families: the economy, public services, how we strengthen our communities, and how we work with the rest of the world.

"It is right that there will be a strong focus on the leaders' debates and it is right that in a Cabinet system of government that ministers and opposition ministers also debate the issues in a series of debates on television and radio too.

"I relish the opportunity of making our case directly to the people of this country."

The BBC's political editor Nick Robinson said agreeing the detail could be "easier said than done".

In his blog, he wrote: "Mr Brown does not mention the involvement of Nick Clegg but, as I wrote last week, he's said to be keen to go head-to-head with Mr Cameron and to be prepared to agree to debate with Mr Clegg on his own in order to allow that to happen."

He went on to say: "TV debates now look more likely than ever to happen since all sides have declared their willingness early enough for the details to be hammered out before the campaign makes compromise impossible."

US debates

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg welcomed the news of Mr Brown's willingness to take part, saying the "debates are a great way to seek to build bridges between politicians and people".

"The more public debate the better," he said. "I am always unambiguously in favour of any move that helps to engage people in the big issues and decisions that face the country, particularly at a time when we have to confront enormous social, economic and environmental challenges."

TV debates now look more likely than ever to happen since all sides have declared their willingness early enough for the details to be hammered out
Nick Robinson, BBC political editor

A Conservative Party spokesperson said: "David Cameron welcomes this news and is very pleased that after months of dithering on this the prime minster has finally committed himself to the leaders' debates."

Mr Cameron recently urged Mr Brown to "get off the fence" and make a decision on the question.

Opposition leaders regularly call for TV debates in the run-up to general elections but while they are commonplace in the US, they have not been held in Britain.

Tony Blair refused to take part in one when he was prime minister and Mr Brown has previously argued that the situation is different in the US, where presidents are directly elected.

He has also argued that he is questioned regularly, at prime minister's questions and in statements to the Commons.

Critics argue that such debates would overly personalise a UK election campaign.



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