British Parliamentary Style

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from British Parliamentary debating)
Jump to navigation Jump to search

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

British Parliamentary style debate is a major form of academic debate that originated in Liverpool in the mid 1800s.[1] It has gained wide support across countries in Europe, Africa, Asia, Oceania, and North and South America. It is the official style of the World Universities Debating Championship (WUDC); of regional and national major tournaments such as the Pan African Universities Debate Championship (PAUDC), All Nigerian Universities Debate Championship (ANUDC), Zimbabwe Universities Debating Championship (ZUDC), Asian British Parliamentary (ABP) debating championship, Lagos Debate Open (LDO) and European Universities Debating Championship (EUDC); as well as of non-English language tournaments such as the World Universities Debating Championship in Spanish and World Debating Championship in Portuguese Language. 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

(Although the two teams on the government and opposition bench are on the same side of the motion, they are judged and ranked independently and do not work together. A team competes against all three other teams in the round, including against its own opening or closing team, which it is not expected to help)

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 teams of both Government and Opposition are known as the Top Half. Each has four basic roles in a British Parliamentary debate. They must:

  • Establish clear definitions of terms in the motion that may be variously interpreted.
  • 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 their faction.[2] 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[3]

Points of Information[edit]

Speakers in the BP format can and should offer Points of Information (POIs) to opposing teams. To give 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 then has the choice to accept or reject the POI; if they accept, they yield the floor for up to 15 seconds, and the debater may offer an argument, make a rebuttal, or ask a question to the speaker.[4] POIs are important in British Parliamentary style, as they allow for engagement among all four teams; in particular, they allow opening teams to maintain their relevance as the debate continues, and enable engagement between teams on the "diagonal" (e.g. Opening Government and Closing Opposition) that would otherwise be unable to directly engage with one another.

The first and last minute of each speech is considered "protected time", during which no points of information may be offered. Only speakers from the opposing bench may offer POIs to the current speaker; speakers on the same side of the motion cannot, even if they are from different teams (e.g. Opening and Closing Government may offer POIs to Opening Opposition, but Closing Opposition cannot do this).


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[5] 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.

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.


  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ "British parliamentary debate - roles of the speakers". Archived from the original on 14 March 2016. Retrieved 22 March 2016.
  3. ^ "British parliamentary debate - roles of the speakers". Archived from the original on 14 March 2016. Retrieved 22 March 2016.
  4. ^ "Introduction - Points of information - Debating in schools". Archived from the original on 9 April 2016. Retrieved 28 March 2016.
  5. ^ "Edinburgh University Debates Union". Retrieved 27 May 2017.

External links[edit]