British Parliamentary style is a major form of academic debate that originated in Liverpool in the mid 1800s. It has gained wide support globally and is the official format of the World Universities Debating Championship (WUDC).
British Parliamentary debates consist of four teams, containing two speakers each, which are divided into two sides that speak for and against the motion. Due to the style's origins in British parliamentary procedure, the two sides are called the Government and the Opposition. Similarly, sides are known as benches, consisting of two teams - an opening team and a closing team. Teams compete against all three other teams in the round, including against its own opening or closing team, which it is not expected to help. The order of speeches alternates between the two benches, starting with the first government speaker, until all eight participants have spoken. Speeches are usually either five (high-school level) or seven (university level) minutes in duration.
Prime Minister/Leader of Opposition
The first speaker from each bench is known as the PM/LO. They are responsible for establishing the characterization of the motion under which the debate will take place, along with forwarding arguments for their own teams (Opening Government or Opening Opposition), and establishing their importance within the round
The second speaker from each bench is known as the Deputy. Deputies may add new arguments to their team's substantive, but their primary responsibilities are to rebuild the existing case, to launch challenges to the opposing bench, and to add additional weighing to their arguments to preemptively frame them against any extensions/new arguments from closing.
The third speaker from each bench, and the first speaker for the closing sides, is known as the extension. They are responsible for differentiating their side from their opening, running either a clear vertical extension, flagging what parts of it are new, and critical for the actualisation of the argument's benefits, or a horizontal extension, and weighing it directly against other arguments in the round. They also provide some brief response work to the opening half of the debate as a whole, but this is not their primary goal.
The final speaker from each bench is known as the Whip. Whip speakers cannot add new arguments, and must instead summarize, frame, and weigh the arguments presented in the debate in a way that shows that their team (Closing Government or Closing Opposition) wins the debate.
Points of Information
Speakers in the BP format can offer Points of Information (POIs) to opposing teams. To offer a POI during another speaker's speech, a debater may stand, say something such as "Point" or "Point of Information", and wait to be called on. The speaker may accept, reject, or ignore the POI. If they accept, the individual who offered the POI may state an argument, a rebuttal, or ask a question to the speaker for up to 15 seconds or until interrupted by the speaker. Speakers may reject POIs with a physical cue (e.g. waving one's hand) or a verbal indication of rejection.
Speakers are granted "protected time", during which no points of information may be offered. Most commonly, this is the first and last minute of a speech.
Only speakers from the opposing bench may offer POIs to the current speaker. Speakers on the same side of the motion cannot do so even if they are from different teams (e.g. Opening and Closing Government may offer POIs to Opening Opposition, but Closing Opposition cannot).
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, traditionally commenced by the Edinburgh Cup in the first week of October building up to World Championships held over the Christmas holidays. After "Worlds" the Cambridge and Oxford IVs are held. 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, or Euros. The Euros were initially held over the Easter break, but is now held over the summer, normally in August and concludes the European debating season.
The world championships, as well as many other tournaments, require team members to be registered students of a university or another tertiary-level institution. However, "open" tournaments also exist that allow non-students and composite teams to compete.
- Haapala, Taru. "Debating Societies, the Art of Rhetoric and the British House of Commons: Parliamentary Culture of Debate before and after the 1832 Reform Act". Res Publica: Revista de Filosofía Política. 27: 26.
- "Debate Guides". www.worlddebating.org. Retrieved 9 August 2022.
- "Introduction - Points of information - Debating in schools". www.educationscotland.gov.uk. Archived from the original on 9 April 2016. Retrieved 28 March 2016.
- "Edinburgh University Debates Union". www.edinburghdebatesunion.com. Retrieved 27 May 2017.
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