British Parliamentary Debating Style
British Parliamentary style debate is a common form of academic debate. It has gained support in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, India, Europe, Africa, Philippines and United States, and has also been adopted as the official style of the World Universities Debating Championship and European Universities Debating Championship. Speeches are usually either five or seven minutes in duration.
Because of the style’s origins in British parliamentary procedure, the two sides are called the Government (more commonly called “Proposition” in the United Kingdom) and Opposition.
The speakers are similarly titled:
Opening Government (first faction)
Deputy Prime Ministe
Opening Opposition (second faction)
Leader of the Oppositio
Deputy Leader of the Oppositio
Closing Government (third faction)
Member for the Governmen
Closing Opposition (fourth faction)
Member for the Oppositio
- Speaking alternates between the two sides and the order of the debate is therefore:
- Prime Minister
- Leader of the Opposition
- Deputy Prime Minister
- Deputy Leader of the Opposition
- Member for the Government
- Member for the Opposition
- Government Whip
- Opposition Whip
As British Parliamentary debates take place between four teams their roles are split into two categories, those for the Opening factions, and those for the Closing factions.
The first faction on each Government and Opposition team, known as the Opening Factions, has four basic roles in a British Parliamentary debate. They must:
Define the motion of the debate.
Present their case.
Respond to arguments of the opposing first faction.
Maintain their relevance during the debate.
The Opening Government team has the semi-divine right of definition, preventing the opposition from challenging their definition of the motion unless it is either a truism or clearly unreasonable.
The role of the second two factions are to:
Introduce a case extension.
Establish and maintain their relevance early in the debate.
Respond to the arguments of the first factions.
Respond to the case extension of the opposing second faction.
In addition, the final two speakers of the debate (known as the Whips) take a similar role to the third speakers in Australia-Asian debating:
The opposition whip may not introduce new arguments for his faction, the government’s whip may add new positive material as long as it’s “small” and does not start a new line of argumentation. This is a relatively new standard that has become the standard at the Worlds University Debating Championship, as well as the European University Debating Championship;
They must respond to both opposing factions’ arguments;
They should briefly sum up their Opening Faction’s case;
They should offer a conclusion of their own faction’s case extension.
Points of Information
The style demands that all speakers offer Points of Information (POIs) to their opposition. POIs are important in British Parliamentary style, as it allows the first two factions to maintain their relevance during the course of the debate, and the last two factions to introduce their arguments early in the debate. The first and last minute of each speech is considered “protected time”, during which no points of information may be offered.
Depending on the country, there are variations in speaking time, speaking order, whether proposition whip can introduce new points, and the number of speakers. In addition to specific rules, etiquette varies by region. For instance, in some tournaments it is considered bad form for the first team on either side to try to cover as many topics as possible to leave the closing team with nothing (a practice known as “scorching the earth”), while in other tournaments it is strongly encouraged.
Competitions in BP Style
The debating season closely follows the academic year in Northern Hemisphere English speaking countries. The first competitions are in Britain and Ireland in October & November, building up to World Championships held over the Christmas holidays. After “Worlds” the Cambridge Intervarsity (IV) is the most prestigious. In the New Year the Trinity IV in Dublin, the premier tournament in Ireland, recommences the season. The season continues with a large number of IONA and European competitions in March and April. During May and June, the period annual examinations in many universities a small number of open competitions are held in preparation for the European Championship. “Euros” was initially held over the Easter break, but is now held over the summer, normally in August and concludes the European debating season.
The International Mace final is held in April. It is contested by the winners of the national Mace competitions in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. The finalists are informed before about the motion. The national mace competitions are run throughout the academic year in a series of knockout rounds in Scotland and Ireland. In England and Wales they are held over the course of two days.
For the World Championships and most competitions both team members must be registered students of a university or third level institution. Although occasionally ‘open’ competitions are held that allow non-students and composite teams to compete. The most prestigious of these on the European circuit is the LSE Open, held at LSE at the end of January each year, which attracts many former World and European Champions and Finalists. It is generally thought to be one of the hardest, if not the hardest, competitions to win, as many debaters ineligible to speak at Worlds or Euros are able to, and do, compete.
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How to Start a Debate Society: A Brief Guide
How to Organize an International Debate Tournament: A Brief Guide