MPs are set to consider a petition launched by Sky News to make televised debates with UK political party leaders a permanent fixture for future general election campaigns.
Sky News launched its Make Debates Happen campaign in September last year, calling for an Independent Debates Commission to be set up to organise the compulsory events.
It said this would “take decision making out of the politicians’ and broadcasters’ hands”. Sky News said a “genuine” televised leaders debate had only taken place in 2010 and not in subsequent general elections.
A petition set up by Sky News head of newsgathering Jonathan Levy received 100,000 signatures by early December.
Parliament is obliged to consider a motion for debate that has been put forward by a petition if it reaches the threshold of 100,000 signatures within six months of being set up. It currently has more than 133,000.
MPs will debate the petition in Westminster Hall on Monday next week from 4.30pm, led by Petitions Committee member Steve Double. MPs will be able to quiz a Government Minister on the issue.
The Government has already responded to the petition, saying it has “no plans” to change electoral law to make TV debates mandatory.
It said: “Televised election debates are not mandatory under electoral law. Participating in a televised election debate is down to the discretion of the political party invited to debate.”
It added that the proposals for a Debates Commission “are something to be considered in due course by political parties, closer to any general election in 2022”.
Writing last month after the petition hit its target, Sky News editor-at-large Adam Boulton said leader debates are an “important public service which only TV can provide and that the television companies should co-operate to bring them about”.
He added: “That is why we launched our campaign two months ago in a low-key way.
“We wanted to show that it was the best way of proceeding calmly and coolly, away from the heat of an election campaign when passions are roused.”
Boulton said last month’s challenge by the Prime Minister to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn for a televised debate on Brexit, which fell through after disagreements over formatting, “shows just why a respected debates commission is needed to ensure fairness for all sides”.
Sky News has received cross-party backing for the campaign from MPs including Corbyn, Lib Dem leader Sir Vince Cable, the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas, all SNP MPs, and former Home Secretary Amber Rudd.
Picture: Parliament TV