Make Debates Happen petition hits parliamentary target with 100,000 signatures

Lewis Goodall, politics correspondent

The Sky News campaign for full general election debates between the party leaders is at its next stage.

Our parliamentary petition, in support of an independent commission to establish television debates as a regular feature of general elections, has reached 100,000 signatures.

100,000 is the magic number- the threshold at which MPs will consider the debating the petition in Parliament. They are then sent to the petitions committee.

Generally, petitions that reach 100,000 signatories are debated. There are some exceptions, usually if committee believes that it is a subject about which the government can do nothing or if parliament has debated the issue recently.

In the last parliament, 11 such petitions were rejected.

However, if the committee does accept the petition then a debate should take place, not in the main House of Commons chamber but in Westminster Hall, the secondary parliamentary debating chamber.

In the event that TV debates are adopted, a leaders' debate commission would set the criteria for party participation, the objectivity of the audience, debate formats and dates, rules and the moderators.

A minister, however, will be obliged to respond and set out the government's thinking. Hitherto, that position has been that this is not a question for the government but rather for political parties.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable, former Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas, Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd and ex-foreign secretary Boris Johnson are among the prominent politicians to have already backed the campaign.

All SNP MPs have also given their support, while ex-deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, shadow chancellor John McDonnell, the Electoral Reform Society, businessman Theo Paphitis and Private Eye editor Ian Hislop are also in favour of an independent commission.

Full election debates during a campaign have only taken place once in 2010 when Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg faced off thrice.

In 2015 they were diluted at then-prime minister David Cameron's insistence, and in 2017 Theresa May refused to participate in any live stand-off with Jeremy Corbyn (or anyone else) at all.

In recent days, however, Downing Street has floated the idea of the PM taking part in a Brexit deal debate against the Labour leader.

The US (and other countries) have similar bodies to that which Sky is proposing, the purpose of which regulate and set up television debates between political leaders.

Sky News' editor-at-large, Adam Boulton, said he believed there was real enthusiasm behind the debate.

"I think the danger is complacency - yes, of course they should happen, people think 'why wouldn't they happen?'," he said.

"There's no doubt the Labour Party would love to see Jeremy Corbyn up against the leader of the Conservative Party. It does need a wave of public support to convince the politicians to take the next step."

Here are the MPs who have backed the Make Debates Happen campaign so far:

:: Amber Rudd
:: Peter Bone
:: Nicky Morgan
:: Boris Johnson
:: Daniel Kawczynski
:: Jeremy Corbyn
:: Rushanara Ali
:: John McDonnell
:: Rebecca Long-Bailey
:: Tom Watson
:: Sir Vince Cable
:: Hannah Bardell (on behalf of all SNP MPs)