Learn how to Debate, the British Parliamentary format

Are you one of the few out there who still don’t know what the British Parliamentary system of Debate is?

Or Probably, you already have an idea of what it is and just want to know more,  then you have come to the right spot as I shall in this post bring to you a simple guide to the British Parliamentary Debate Format.

(N/B: This guide is not our original work and is published here in whole. This is meant for Academic use only and should not be edited in part without written permission of the owner. The Original document is available here for download in docx. format University_BP_Guide_Denpedia Media)



This guide is aimed primarily at those of you who have little to no British Parliamentary experience. It is intended to illustrate the mechanics and basic tactics of BP. Sometimes beginners can be discouraged by BP because of various factors in the round. But BP done well can be an incredibly rewarding experience, and trying BP can improve the way you debate in other styles.

This guide also includes a DVD of the Hugill 2003 Final as an example of a BP round.

The Basics:

In BP there are 4 teams in each round. Two teams represent the Government, and two teams represent the Opposition. The Government supports the resolution, and the Opposition opposes the resolution. The teams are also divided into the Opening and Closing halves of the debate. The teams are organized like this in the room:


Opening Government (OG) | Opening Opposition (OO)



Closing Government (CG) | Closing Opposition (CO)


There are two speakers on each team. Each speaker has a title. The titles are:

OG: Prime Minister OO:                                                  Leader of the Opposition

Deputy Prime Minister                                                   Deputy Leader of the Opposition

CG: Member of the Government CO:                            Member of the Opposition

Government Whip                                                            Opposition Whip


The speaking order is as follows:

  1. Prime Minister                                                        First Speaker, OG
  2. Leader of the Opposition                                      First Speaker, OO
  3. Deputy Prime Minister                                         Second Speaker, OG
  4. Deputy Leader of the Opposition                       Second Speaker, OO
  5. Member of the Government                                First Speaker, CG
  6. Member of the Opposition                                   First Speaker, CO
  7. Government Whip                                                 Second Speaker, CG
  8. Opposition Whip                                                    Second Speaker, CO

Debates are presided over by a Speaker, who is often the Chair of the adjudicator panel. The Speaker keeps time and calls debaters to the floor.

Each debater has 7 minutes to speak. The first and last minutes are protected time. This means that no POIs may be offered during this time. The Speaker will give a signal at the end and the beginning of protected time, at the seven-minute mark, and at the end of grace. The Speaker will probably not give time signals otherwise, so it is recommended that debaters bring a stopwatch to time themselves or their partner.

There are no Points of Order, or Points of Personal Privilege.

At the end of each debate, the teams will be ranked from first place to fourth place. Each ranking has a point value associated with it. The common point values used are as follows:

First Place = 3 points

Second Place = 2 points

Third Place = 1 point

Fourth Place = 0 points

Your points are added over the course of the tournament. The break is determined by point total, and speaker points if some teams have the same point total.

Matter and Manner

In BP there are two categories that you are judged on as a speaker. Matter is the content of your speech, and manner is how you present that content. Matter and manner are weighted equally. The lists include some of the more common elements of matter and manner, but are not exhaustive.

Matter Includes:

  • Substantive arguments for your side
  • Rebuttal arguments
  • Case Studies / Facts
  • POIs

Manner Includes:

  • Humor
  • Appropriate language
  • Engaging the audience

Roles of the Teams and Speakers

You’ll hear a lot about the “roles” of teams and speakers in BP. In order for a round to be able to develop properly, the teams participating in the round must fulfill certain criteria. When they

succeed they will have fulfilled their role and they will be developing the debate. If they fail then the debate will suffer in quality because of it, and this will absolutely be considered in the adjudication.

Roles of the Teams (Overview)

  1. Opening Government:
  • Defines the terms of the debate
  • Opens the case for the Government
  • Opposes the case of the Opening Opposition when it is presented

      2. Opening Opposition:

  • Opposes the case of the Opening Government
  • Opens the case for the Opposition

      3. Closing Government:

  • Extends the Government case
  • Opposes the cases of the Opening and Closing Opposition teams
  • Summarizes the debate

     4. Closing Opposition:

  • Extends the Opposition case
  • Opposes the cases of the Opening and Closing Opposition teams
  • Summarizes the debate

Roles of the Speakers (Overview)

  1. Prime Minister (Opening Government):
  • Defines the resolution
  • Introduces the Government case

      2. Leader of the Opposition (Opening Opposition):

  • Rebuts what PM said
  • Introduces Opening Opposition case

If there’s going to be a definition challenge, the LO must mention it in their speech, otherwise all the other teams in the round must accept the original definition (See: Challenging the Definition below) 

     3. Deputy Prime Minister (Opening Government):

  • Rebuts what LO said
  • Continues Opening Government case

   4. Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Opening Opposition):

  • Rebuts what DPM said
  • Continues Opening Opposition case

   5. Member of the Government (Closing Government):

  • Extends the Government case
  • Rebuts what DLO said

   6. Member of the Opposition (Closing Opposition):

  • Extends the Opposition case
  • Rebuts what MG said

    7. Government Whip (Closing Government):

  • May introduce new contentions, but it’s not generally recommended
  • Rebuts what the MO said
  • Summarizes the debate

     8. Opposition Whip (Closing Government):

  • Absolutely no new contentions may be introduced, but new evidence in support of existing contentions may be introduced
  • Rebuts what the GW said
  • Summarizes the debate

Role of the Opening Government

The first goal of an OG team is to present a clear, coherent, and above all, contentious case. Remember that the OG case must be contentious enough to last for eight speeches, and 56 minutes of debate. One of the most important things OG teams should keep in mind is that bold cases are generally better to run than squirreled cases that run out of steam within the first few speeches. It is debate, after all. This doesn’t mean that you should propose that humans eat their young. But it does mean that you shouldn’t be afraid of proposing controversial models or cases. The major point: Propose bold, but not suicidal cases.

The next thing that you must remember as OG is that your case must be within the spirit of the resolution. At most BP tournaments the resolutions are directed. This means that the resolution will hint at the topic that should be discussed. However, the wording will usually be such that the OG will have a degree of flexibility in how they frame their case. However, a degree of flexibility does not mean that the OG can ignore the resolution (like we do at most CUSID tournaments).

An example of an acceptable and unacceptable interpretation of a resolution:

Resolution: THW Sell its Children

Acceptable: THW Legalize Surrogacy for Profit

Unacceptable: THBT Developing Nations Should Prioritize Economic Development Over Environmental Protection

The reason why the second interpretation is abusive is because the original resolution clearly hints at a topic involving the exchange of children for some benefit. This could be a myriad of things, from surrogacy for profit, to foreign adoption limits. So the OG has a degree of flexibility in choosing a topic relating to the selling of children. With this in mind, the second interpretation clearly goes against the spirit of the resolution.

The Role of the Opening Opposition

The Opening Opposition role is probably the one that debaters new to BP will have the least amount of trouble with. It’s fairly similar to the standard CP Opposition, but with different timings. However, there are some extremely important differences between the two.

As the OO team, your role is twofold. You must refute what the OG team has said, but it is not enough to simply poke holes in the OG case. You must also bring in constructive arguments of your own. It is not enough to go into a BP round as an OO team and do a rebuttal-only opposition. A good OO case would make sense if the wording of the resolution were reversed, and OO became the OG. You have to bring your own constructive analysis to the round.

Good OO teams will often tie in some of their rebuttal with their constructive points as well. This allows the judges to see that you’re engaging with the other team’s arguments as well as using them to build up your own. Using this style will also help you stay under the time limit, which is often a difficult thing to do if you’re faced with a lot of rebutting and summarizing.

So remember: It’s not enough to say why their ideas are stupid, you have to say why your ideas are smart.

The Role of the Closing Teams

The closing positions of the debate are where we see the most significant difference between BP and CP debating. Both closing teams are expected to offer an extension for their opening team’s case. What is an extension? An extension can take many forms:

  • Switching the focus of the debate from practical to philosophical arguments, or vice versa
  • Bringing in new practical/philosophical arguments
  • Focusing on a specific case study
  • Focusing on an already mentioned argument and expanding on it significantly

This is an incredibly short list of acceptable extensions. The main goal for a closing team is to differentiate yourself from the opening team, but still support them. It is very important that you support the opening team. But at the same time it’s still important for your arguments to be better than theirs. So you have to make sure that your case has an over-arching theme that the judges can easily identify, that makes your team distinct from the opening team, and still supports the opening team. This doesn’t have to be difficult. Many teams stress themselves out about the closing positions because of the extension, but being on the closing half of the debate has distinct advantages. The closing teams have the ability not only to introduce their own constructive matter and rebut what the other team has said, but also to summarize the debate in their own words.

The summary is to be done by the second speaker on each closing team. This is an integral part of the role of each closing team. There are many ways to summarize the debate. Some speakers like to identify the main themes that were analyzed during the round. Some speakers like to label each team with a name describing their arguments. One of the easiest ways for debaters new to BP to go through their summary speech is to identify three questions that need to be answered at the end of the round, and say why your side, and particularly your team, bring the best resolution to those questions. Any style you choose is fine so long as it gives a substantive summary of the arguments in the round, and why you won those arguments. As a reminder: The Opposition Whip is not allowed any new arguments in their speech, and it is highly recommended that the Government Whip focus entirely on summery, as well.

Basic Tactics and Pitfalls:

A. POIs:

  • Give two POIs, and take two POIs
  • POIs shouldn’t be given for the sole purpose of destroying the other team’s case. POIs should build your case up as well.
  • If you’re in the opening half of the debate your priority in the second half should be to remain involved. Make sure your arguments aren’t lost among the second half of the debate. POIs are the best way to accomplish this.
  • If you’re in the second half of the debate then you should be extremely careful about the POIs that you give to first half teams. Sometimes your opening team may try and steal your extension if you give too much away in your POIs.
  • Try to remain involved in the debate by standing on POIs, but do not harass the speaker by continually standing on POIs and saying things like “On Liberty”, “On the Geneva Convention”, etc.
  • It is always better to get in one or two excellent POIs than four or five mediocre ones. One of the best ways to accomplish this is for you and your partner to put a sheet a paper between you with your best POI written down. Then, when the speaker takes either of you you’re certain to have an excellent POI.
  • Just because everyone else is standing up on a POI doesn’t mean you have to, Sometimes when a speaker says something monumentally stupid everyone on opposite benches will stand up. Usually the speaker won’t take a POI at that time, but if there’s someone who stood up late, they just might let them ask a question. Often, the debater giving the POI will be caught off-guard by this. So don’t stand up on a POI just because everyone else is. But if you do, make sure you have a question.
  • Let people finish their question before you wave them down, but if they start to make a speech, or refuse to sit down, start waving them down immediately. If they still won’t sit down then the speaker will deal with them.
  • Finish your thought before you accept a question. It is very easy to forget where you were if you allow someone to interrupt you.
  • If you want to get your question taken it is often better to stand at the end of the speaker’s point. They’ll be more likely to take you.
  • If you are in a round with teams of very disparate skills, it may at first seem like a good idea to take POIs from the weakest team. And that can work. But the judges will be more impressed if you give a good answer to a difficult POI than if you smack down a weak POI. So you might want to choose to take POIs from the better team. This will show the judges that you’re willing to engage the better team in the round.

B. Organization:

  • At the beginning of your speech tell the judges what you’re going to be speaking about.
  • More advanced debaters may feel comfortable speaking without numbering their points or signposting where they’re going with their speech. But the majority of beginning BP debaters will probably find it helpful to number their points and to make very clear to the judges what they’re speaking about. This helps the judges keep track of your most important points, and it helps you cover everything you need to.
  • Pay attention to your timing. If you say that you’re going to introduce three constructive points and then you run out of time, that will reflect poorly on you.
  • Always fill your time.

C. Speaking Style:

  • The most important thing is to keep the audience engaged. You don’t want them drifting off and thinking you’re boring.
  • There are many ways to keep the audience and judges engaged. These include humor, intelligent analysis, and delivery.
  • Not everyone can be a funny speaker, and that’s ok. Most people aren’t. But it will help if you can use a few funny quips, or open with a joke.
  • Avoid being monotonous. Vary your tone and pace of delivery.
  • Never insult another debater’s race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion. Anything offensive will be penalized. Err on the side of caution.

C. Analysis:

  • Try to introduce facts, case studies, and philosophical analysis instead of statistics.
  • Statistics are boring, they can be easily dismissed by the opposition, they generally fall into “specific knowledge”, and they’re easily falsified.
  • Focus on examples. Appropriate examples and case studies will make a case better for the beginning BP debater than any pretty rhetoric can.
  • Stay focused. Remember what you are trying to communicate to the audience, and then communicate it. Don’t go off on tangents.

D. Definitional Challenges:

  • Definitional challenges are exceedingly rare.
  • Do not object to a definition of a resolution if it is merely stupid or generally bad.
  • The only time you should object to the definition is if it is a truism or tautology.
  • The only speaker who can object to the OG definition is the LO. If the LO doesn’t object, no one else can.
  • If the LO objects to the definition then they must substitute their own.
  • The remaining debaters then have to decide which definition to use.
  • If the remaining debaters use the LOs definition then the debate can continue on like normal.
  • If there is still disagreement about the definition then the closing teams must decide which definition to support, or whether to substitute their own.
  • This is why it is usually an exceptionally bad idea to challenge a definition that isn’t a truism or tautology. It’s very messy.

E. Knifing:

  • Knifing is when a closing team, or even a partner on the same team, blatantly disagrees with a fundamental part of the substantive case that they’re supposed to be supporting. (Effectively knifing someone in the back).
  • In the vast majority of situations you should not knife your opening team. It will be a negative factor for you in the adjudication as supporting your opening team is a fundamental part of your role.
  • However, occasionally your opening team will be so shrill and off the mark that you’ll have to basically ignore what they said in order to salvage your side of the round. You may have to twist what they said in order to make sense of their case. Be careful with this strategy. You probably won’t take a first, but you may be able to salvage a point or two out of the round.

F. Tactics for High Bracket Rounds:

While it is always a good thing to take a first place in a BP round, once you get into the high bracket rounds the most important thing is to avoid taking the fourth..

When you get into high rooms you’ll find that the competition between the teams becomes that much closer. So it’s important not to give the judges an excuse to drop you. Watch the small things as well as the big ones. Be careful with timings, signposting, and rebutting what your opponents have said.

Do not stress out about your position in the round, or whether other teams are really good. Concentrate only on staying involved in the round, and demonstrating good analysis and argumentation. A lack of confidence will show through.


Additional Resource are also available for download in docx. format here >>>British Parliamentary Debate Format_Denpedia Media

Also, check out this recommended YouTube Video: