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HOW TO DEBATE: The British Parliamentary Style of Debating (BPS)

Updated on January 19, 2015

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The British Parliamentary Style of Debating is a form of academic debate that gained grounds in the UK, Europe, Africa and some other s. The debate is done on the spot. This means that the motion or the topic is released for 15 minutes and debaters are to prepare their speeches within that time, afterwards, the tournament begins. This style of debating has been adopted as the official style of the World Universities Debating Championship and European Universities Debating Championship. As a member of the University for Development Studies Debate and Literary Society (UDS-DLS), I happen to have gained a lot of experience since all our debates are of this format.


As normal for every debate, a group is for a motion and another is against that same motion. Mostly, this kind of debate seeks to abolish something that is already in existence. For example, “Family planning should be abolished”. The group for this motion will be of the view that family planning should really be abolished supporting their argument with reasons. On the other hand, the second group will be of the fact that, family planning should not be abolished supporting their argument with reasons as well.

Simply put, there are two groups in this style of debate namely, the Government also called Proposition in the UK and the Opposition. What this means is that the Government is for the motion while the Opposition is against it. Each of these two groups is further divided into two sub-groups, each sub-group contains two speakers. In all, there are eight (8) speakers in the debate, four (4) speakers for the Government, and four (4) speakers for the Opposition.


The two sub-groups for the Government are the Opening Government (first faction) and the Closing Government (third faction). The two speakers for the Opening Government are the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister. The two speakers for the Closing Government are, Member for the Government and Government Whip.


The two sub-groups for the Opposition are the Opening Opposition (second faction) and the Closing Opposition (fourth faction). The two speakers for the Opening Opposition are the Leader of the Opposition and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. The two speakers for the Closing Opposition are the Member for the Opposition and the Opposition Whip.

Points of information can be giving to the opposing side when they are speaking. Point of information is a form a question that can be asked by the side that is not in speaking mode. It does not last more than 15 seconds.

For every debate, the first and last minute are protected time, where one cannot make any point of information.

Contentions are points a speaker will like to use to prove his case.


The British Parliamentary debate is done by these four sub-groups. All the speakers speak alternatively. The roles of the speakers in the British Parliamentary Style of Debating are in this case, stated according to the order in which they speak.

The Prime Minister:

The prime minister defines every important term in the topic. The definition is done carefully; if not the side opposition will define them in any way that best suits it.

The Prime Minister also introduces any contentions he wishes to do in the debate. The time limit is 5 minutes.

The Leader of the Opposition:

The Leader of the Opposition refutes every contention the Prime Minister made and introduces any contentions he wishes to do in the debate. The time limit is also generally 5 minutes.

The Deputy Prime minister:

The Deputy Prime Minister refutes every contention the Leader of Opposition made, re-proves all the contentions introduced by the Prime Minister and introduces any additional contentions he wishes to introduce in the debate. Time limit is generally 5 minutes.

The Deputy Leader of the Opposition:

The Deputy leader of the Opposition refutes all the contentions made by the two speakers of the Government, reproves all contentions made by the Leader of Opposition and add new contentions he wishes to add in the debate. Depending on the Judge, sometimes it is against the rules to introduce new contentions in the last minutes of this speech. Sometimes, the speaker uses the remaining time to summarize all the points made by the Leader of the Opposition and his own points which generally is a good practice. Time is generally 8 minutes.

The Member of Government:

The Member of Government brings an extension of the arguments of the first two speakers of the Proposition. That is, he examines the underlying principle of the debate in broader terms. He brings in new arguments to open the second chapter of the debate. Time is 5 minutes.

The Member of Opposition:

The member of Opposition refutes the points of the Member of Government and brings in another extension. Time is 5 minutes.

The Government Whip:

The Government Whip refutes all points of the Member of Opposition. He also summarizes all the points of the Proposition into some main points. He may not bring in new extensions into the debate. Time is 5 minutes.

The Opposition Whip:

The Opposition Whip is the last to speak in the British Parliamentary debate. He refutes but does not introduce extensions into the debate. He summarizes the argument of the Opposition into some main points.

How can you win?


In this British Parliamentary Style of Debating (BPS), the main aim of the speakers is to refute all contentions or extensions introduced by their opponents. Also, to introduce contentions or extensions that cannot easily be refuted by the opponents. Any point that is not able to be refuted by the opposed is scored by the judge as a valid point to the side that raised it. It is always advisable to direct all arguments to the Judge by looking directly at him. When a different contention is to be introduced, the Judge should be made aware in order not to confuse him.


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