What is Parliamentary Debate?

This style of debate models Britain’s legislative protocol.

First, a motion is a position the “parliament” might take on a social, political, economic, or philosophical issue.

There are two sides:

  1. Government affirms the motion.
  2. Opposition argues against the motion.

Simple enough?

Next, the debate is divided into two halves: opening and closing.

There are eight people in a debate divided into four teams:

  1. Opening Government
  2. Opening Opposition
  3. Closing Government
  4. Closing Opposition

We compete in teams – you stay with your partner all through the tournament. Rather than a winner and loser, the four teams are ranked in order of overall performance: both strength of argument and quality of speech.

Each person speaks for 7 minutes with a very specific role within the overall debate in the following order:

  1. Prime Minister (Establish the context of the debate, argue in favor of motion)
  2. Leading Opposition (Set-up argument against the motion)
  3. Deputy Prime Minister (Reinforce and supplement the PM’s argument)
  4. Deputy Leading Opposition (Reinforce and supplement the LO’s argument)
  5. Member of Government (Reframe the debate and provide better/different argument)
  6. Member of Opposition (Provide new argument that beats everyone so far)
  7. Government Whip (Summarize the debate to support the motion)
  8. Opposition Whip (Summarize the debate to oppose the motion)

Finally, when you’re not speaking, you try to edge in your argument and refute the current speaker’s argument through Points of Interest (POIs). You stand up and raise your hand – or hold out your wig, if you’re strictly observing British custom – and if the speaker calls on you from minute 2 to minute 6, you have 15 seconds to blurt what’s on your mind.

And that’s pretty much it. There’s technique and style to make a great speech, but this short page covers the structure and format of what we do. Once you learn the basics… and manage to run your mouth for seven straight minutes… Parliamentary Debate is a great time!

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