Live TV debate gets the go-ahead

By Ian Dunt

The arrangements for the live TV debate between the three party leaders have been finalised, with the men set to go head-to-head in primetime slots in the general election campaign.

A set of rules have been agreed after extensive meetings between Labour, the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats and executives from the BBC, ITV and Sky.

All three debates will be held mid-evening in weekday slots in front of a studio audience.

“I am absolutely delighted that these debates are going to happen,” said David Cameron.

“I first called for them in May 2007 and since then, whether we’ve been up in the polls or down in the polls, I’ve kept the pressure up.

“So now they’re finally going to happen I’m proud of the part we’ve played in making this particular part of British political history.”

Members of the audience will be able to put questions to Gordon Brown, Nick Clegg and Mr Cameron directly but viewers will also be able to email in advance of the programme, with a board of senior journalists meeting to select which questions will be asked.

ICM will be asked to recruit an audience with a broad cross-section of views.

A spokesperson for the joint Broadcasting Panel said: “We warmly welcome the agreement by the party leaders to take part in these innovative programmes.

“We were delighted by the positive atmosphere in all our dealings with the parties over the last few months, and the agreement we are jointly announcing today represents a major step forward in the way election campaigns can reach the entire population.”

The first debate, screened on ITV1 and moderated by Alastair Stewart, will be themed on domestic affairs.

The second will be broadcast by Sky and moderated by Adam Boulton, and will concern international affairs.

The final programme will be screened on BBC1, moderated by David Dimbleby and focus on economic affairs.

The exact dates will be announced once Mr Brown has revealed the date of the election.

Those concerned that the debates would be sterile exercises in consecutive statements will be heartened by the fact that each party leader will be allowed rebuttal time. A period of free debate will also be allowed.

Each statement will be restricted to one minute with an additional 90-second closing statement at the end.