BP: A beginner’s guide

British Parliamentary Debating

The British Parliamentary debating format is the official format of the World Universities Debating Championships (WUDC).  The format has its roots in the British House of Commons, an institution of government that served as a model for academic debating in British universities.  Since its adoption by the WUDC, the format has spread around the world and is now the most widely practiced format of intercollegiate debating.

Like other formats of debating, British Parliamentary Debating (BP) involves teams who argue for or against a motion before a panel of expert adjudicators. However, most formats of debating involve only two teams: those arguing for the topic and those arguing against the topic.  Thus, the outcome of the conventional format of debating is binary: the team representing one side of the motion wins and the team representing the other side of the motion loses.

The rationale behind the BP format is to employ the legislative model of advocacy, in which parties with various interests cooperate to advance the same proposition.  This model is grounded in those parliamentary systems of government that utilize the electoral system of proportionate representation, in which various parties must form coalitions to establish a governing majority.

In a typical BP round, teams cooperate using a very similar approach.  Two teams- the Opening Proposition and the Closing Proposition are responsible for arguing on behalf of the motion. The remaining two teams- the Opening Opposition and the Closing Opposition — are responsible for arguing against the motion. Each of these teams comprises two debaters, each of whom will give one seven-minute speech beginning with the first speaker for the Opening Proposition and alternating between the Proposition and Opposition until each debater has spoken.

Opening Proposition

 

[1st Speaker- Prime Minister

3rd Speaker- Deputy PM]

Opening Opposition

 

[2nd Speaker- Leader of Opposition

4th Speaker- Deputy LO]

Closing Proposition

 

[5th Member- Member of Government

7th Speaker- Government Whip]

Closing Opposition

 

[7th Speaker- Member of Opposition

8th Speaker- Opposition Whip]

Unlike the binary formats of debating, the BP format involves four independent teams per round: two of which argue in favour of the motion (known as the Proposition or Government teams) while the other two teams argue against the motion (known as the Opposition teams). Though the two teams on the Proposition are assigned the task of arguing the same side of the topic, they are actually in competition with each other for the higher rank in the round.  Similarly, the first and second teams on the Opposition also compete against one another. Rather than competing for a simple win or loss, each of the teams competes against the others for a ranking at the end of the round.