David Cameron and Ed Miliband
David Cameron and Ed Miliband will come face-to-face in a televised Q and A on Sky news.Reuters

British Prime Minister David Cameron and Labour leader Ed Miliband are set to take part in a TV battle.

During the first of a series of election broadcasts, Cameron and Miliband will both be quizzed by audience members in a 90-minute live question and answer session on Sky News, on 26 March from 9pm until 10.30pm, jointly presented by Kay Burley and Jeremy Paxman. But despite sharing the same platform, it will be not be a head-to-head debate.

The PM has however, agreed to take part in a televised election debate with seven party leaders.

The first proposal from broadcasters was for a two-way, three-way and four-way debate, including Labour, the Tories, Lib Dems and UKIP, but the PM said he would only commit to one multi-party debate before the campaign starts on 30 March and would not take part in events during the short election campaign.

The debate will include Nick Clegg, Nigel Farage, the Greens' Natalie Bennett, SNP's Nicola Sturgeon and Leanne Wood from Plaid Cymru.

Confirming the news, John Ryley, Head of Sky News, said: "We are extremely pleased that the Conservative and Labour party leaders have agreed to take part in a programme that will kick start the election campaign and put the two people most likely to be the next Prime Minister under scrutiny in front of millions of viewers across the UK."

David Cameron has come under fire for his refusal to take part in a direct face-off with the Labour leader, despite attending the same event and taking questions from the same audience.

Labour sources have accused the PM of "cowardice" for torpedoing the debates, which have proved popular with the public, while a Lib Dem source said the process had been a "farce."

Mr Miliband told the BBC: "David Cameron is now in the ridiculous position where he'll go to the same studio as me, on the same night as me, with the same audience as me but he won't debate me head to head as he's running scared.

"I'm going to keep the offer of a head-to-head debate on the table right up to Election Day as it's what the British people want."

Nigel Farage, the UKIP leader, launched a bitter tirade on Twitter in reaction to the news, writing: "#TVdebates are now so far from the original proposals. Broadcasters should be ashamed. They've kowtowed to manipulation from Downing Street."

He added: "Public deserve proper #TVdebates but now fobbed off, playing into hands of 1 party. It's a smack in the face of democracy and I am appalled."

A Tory source defended the multi-party debate saying: "If anything, this is an improvement on the deal we were offered last week. The PM has always believed too many debates would suck the life out of the campaign. In all these formats, we are confident the choice between competence and chaos will be clear."

A spokesperson for the broadcasters said: "We're delighted that there will be a debate with all the party leaders during the election campaign. The debate on 2nd April will build on the success of the 2010 TV debates which were so highly valued by viewers.

"We're very pleased to be able to offer viewers an extensive range of programmes, across the four channels, featuring the party leaders interacting directly with voters during the campaign."

The live debate with the seven leaders will take place on ITV on 2 April, moderated by Julie Etchingham.

A debate on 16 April on the BBC will involve five opposition party leaders. The PM and Mr Miliband will separately take part in a live question and answer programme on Channel 4 and Sky News on 26 March.

There will also be a special Question Time on BBC One, a week before polling day, with Mr Cameron, Mr Miliband and Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg appearing separately on the programme to answer questions from a studio audience.