MPs are set to discuss holding TV election debates when Parliament returns on Monday after more than 133,000 people signed a petition calling for them.
The petition urges the Government to set up an “Independent Debates Commission” to organise the showdowns, after recent attempts have been thwarted by political wrangling.
After it reached the threshold of 100,000 signatures for a debate in Parliament last month, it was agreed the matter would be discussed in Westminster Hall on Monday, January 7 at 4.30pm.
Entitled “Make TV election debates happen – establish an Independent Debates Commission”, it will be opened by Steve Double, Conservative MP for Falmouth and Newquay and a member of the Petitions Committee.
The petition states that this is necessary as “an Independent Debates Commission would take decision making out of the politicians and broadcasters’ hands and ensure TV debates become a regular fixture of UK elections”.
It adds: “Genuine leaders’ debates took place in 2010, but in the next two elections didn’t happen. Amend election law to make party leaders take part in a televised debate.”
But in response the Government said: “Televised election debates are a matter for political parties. The Government has no plans to change electoral law to make the debates mandatory.
“The proposals for a Debates Commission are something to be considered in due course by political parties, closer to any general election in 2022.”
The first televised election debates took place ahead of the 2010 General Election, with three clashes between then-leaders Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg.
But at the 2015 and 2017 elections politicians and broadcasters failed to agree on terms and no head-to-head debates took place.
And despite claims from both No10 and the Labour leader’s office that they wanted to debate Mrs May’s Brexit deal live on television, talks broke down over the format and broadcaster last month and a head-to-head did not take place.
A campaign was launched by Sky News last year for an independent commission to organise future TV showdowns, inspired by the Commission on Presidential Debates in America.
It has been backed by Jeremy Corbyn, who said: “I welcome any move that will guarantee general election debates so that voters can hear directly from those putting themselves forward to lead the country.”
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable also backed creating an independent commission, saying: “It’s surely right that the ground rules should be decided in a non-political independent environment of the kind you suggest.
“We should now be putting this structure in place so there’s no argy-bargy in the few weeks before the next general election.”