British Parliamentary Style

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Debating in Khmelnytskyi, Ukraine. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition is speaking.

British Parliamentary style debate is a main form of academic debate. It has gained support in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, India, Europe, Africa, Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Hispanic America, Spain, Bangladesh and United States, and has also been adopted as the official style of the World Universities Debating Championship, Pan African Universities Debate Championship, All Nigerian Universities Debate Championship (ANUDC), Zimbabwe Debate Championship (ZiDC), World Universities Debating Championship in Spanish, World Debating Championship in Portuguese Language and European Universities Debating Championship. Speeches are usually five to 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:

  1. Opening Government (first faction):
    1. Prime Minister
    2. Deputy Prime Minister
  2. Opening Opposition (second faction):
    1. Leader of the Opposition
    2. Deputy Leader of the Opposition
  3. Closing Government (third faction):
    1. Member of Government
    2. Government Whip
  4. Closing Opposition (fourth faction):
    1. Member of Opposition
    2. Opposition Whip

(Even though there are two teams of government or opposition, it does not mean they are on the same side. All four teams are independently judged, and the two factions on one side have no expectation to help each other)

Speaking alternates between the two sides and the order of the debate is therefore:

  1. Prime Minister
  2. Leader of the Opposition
  3. Deputy Prime Minister
  4. Deputy Leader of the Opposition
  5. Member of Government
  6. Member of Opposition
  7. Government Whip
  8. 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.

Opening factions[edit]

The first two teams on each Government and Opposition team are known as part of the Top Half. Each has four basic roles in a British Parliamentary debate. They must:

  • Establish clear definitions of terms that may be variously interpreted. For example, defining "this house" in the context of a debate on drug policy might include establishing the primary actor is a country, international organization, or specific policymaker.
  • Present their case.
  • Respond to arguments raised by the opposing teams.
  • Maintain their relevance during the debate by asking points of information.

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.

Closing factions[edit]

The second two teams are known as the Bottom Half. The roles of the second two factions are to:

  • Introduce a case extension where a new argument is presented that focuses on an aspect of the debate not touched on by the side's opening faction.
  • 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 government whip and the opposition whip may not introduce new arguments for his or her faction.[1] 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.
  • They should distinguish the arguments that their partner made from the arguments of opening government or opening opposition[2]

Points of Information is vital[edit]

The style demands that all speakers offer Points of Information (POIs) to their opposition. To give a POI, a debater who is in the round but on the opposing side of the current speaker may stand up and wait to be called on. If the speaker chooses to call on the debater, the speaker yields the floor for up to 15 seconds, and the debater may offer an argument towards or ask a question to the speaker.[3] 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" or "burning the turf"), while in other tournaments it is strongly encouraged.

Competitions in BP Style[edit]

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, traditionally commenced by the Edinburgh Cup[4] in the first week of October building up to World Championships held over the Christmas holidays. After "Worlds" the Cambridge and Oxford IVs are considered 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.


  1. ^ User, Super. "British parliamentary debate - roles of the speakers". Archived from the original on 2016-03-14. Retrieved 2016-03-22.
  2. ^ User, Super. "British parliamentary debate - roles of the speakers". Archived from the original on 2016-03-14. Retrieved 2016-03-22.
  3. ^ "Introduction - Points of information - Debating in schools". Archived from the original on 2016-04-09. Retrieved 2016-03-28.
  4. ^ "Edinburgh University Debates Union". Retrieved 2017-05-27.

External links[edit]