PM 'wants to take part in debates'
Prime Minister David Cameron has insisted he wants to take part in televised leaders' debates during the general election campaign, and said that "good progress" was being made towards an acceptable format.
But the Conservative leader appeared to raise a potential further obstacle to the broadcasts, by suggesting that he did not understand why Northern Irish parties should be excluded. The Democratic Unionist Party has already protested over the format put forward by the four major broadcasters, which includes nationalist parties from Scotland and Wales but none from Ulster.
Mr Cameron previously objected to the plans for three debates put forward last October by the four major broadcasters, because they included a spot for Ukip leader Nigel Farage but not for the Greens' Natalie Bennett.
He has yet to reveal whether he will accept a revised 7-7-2 format proposed by the broadcasters last week, under which two debates hosted by BBC and ITV would feature the leaders of Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Ukip, the Greens, Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru, and a third on Channel 4 and Sky would pit David Cameron against Ed Miliband in a head-to-head clash of the two men most likely to emerge as prime minister.
Answering questions following a campaign speech in Southampton, the PM was asked whether he could now commit to take part.
Mr Cameron said: "We are making good progress. I was told that it was 'appalling' and 'outrageous' that I had suggested that you couldn't have one minor party without having the other minor party and I'm delighted the broadcasters have gone away and thought again.
"They've actually come up with rather more minor parties that I had in mind, but anyway, I'm sure they've thought it all through and they know what they are doing, although I don't quite see why Northern Ireland seems to be missing out, because as far as I am concerned that's as important part of the United Kingdom as Wales or Scotland.
"But anyway, we are making good progress and I'm sure they know what they are doing. I want to take part, they needed to do the minor party thing and they've certainly done that."
Asked whether Ed Miliband would back the inclusion of Northern Irish parties in debates, a Labour source said: "This is a decision for the broadcasters but we can see no good reason to treat Northern Ireland differently to the rest of the United Kingdom in these debates."