British Parliamentary (BP) is the adopted style of debate for the WUDC and regional tournaments around the world.

BP STYLE: A BRIEF INTRODUCTION

The style of debate practiced at the World Universities Debating Championship is British Parliamentary (BP for short), the most common and international style of collegiate debate in the English-speaking world.

Despite the name, there's nothing especially British about BP debate, though its origins can be traced to the British university system. The defining characteristics of the style are as follows:

  • 15 minutes prior to each round, a "motion" is announced. Motions are drawn from a wide range of topic areas, including domestic and foreign policy, philosophy, political theory, and so on. Debaters have no idea what the motion will be until it is announced.

  • Four teams compete in each round, two on each side. Each team in the round has a dual burden: to rebut any arguments made by the two teams on the other side of the motion, and to do a better job of defending the motion than the other team on its own side.

  • Each of the four teams in a BP-style debate round comprises two members, each of whom gives one speech, usually with an upper time limit of seven minutes.

  • After all eight speakers have made their case, the debaters leave the room and the judges deliberate until they agree on a ranking of the teams from 1 (best) to 4 (worst). If no agreement can be reached, a majority vote is held after the time allotted for adjudication has elapsed.

  • Judges (ideally) rely mostly on considerations of persuasiveness in reaching their decision, though style, resolutionality, and a few other factors are also sometimes considered.

The Cape Town WUDC debating and judging manual provides additional detail about the specifics of BP debate.

HOW DOES IT WORK?

The two sides in the debate are called the Government and Opposition. The speakers are similarly titled:

  1. Opening Government:

    1. Prime Minister

    2. Deputy Prime Minister

  2. Opening Opposition:

    1. Leader of the Opposition

    2. Deputy Leader of the Opposition

  3. Closing Government:

    1. Member of Government

    2. Government Whip

  4. Closing Opposition:

    1. Member of Opposition

    2. Opposition Whip

Even though there are two teams of government or opposition, it does not mean they are on the same side, technically they are, but they still could not see each other's arguments and also, they are trying to knock each other out.

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

 Opening TEAMs

The first two teams on each Government and Opposition team are known as part of the Top Half. Each has four basic roles in a British Parliamentary debate. They must:

  • Establish clear definitions of terms that may be variously interpreted. For example, defining "this house" in the context of a debate on drug policy might include establishing the primary actor is a country, international organization, or specific policymaker.

  • 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 TEAMs

The second two teams are known as the Bottom Half. The roles of these teams are to:

  • Introduce a case extension.

  • Establish and maintain their relevance early in the debate.

  • Respond to the arguments of the opening teams.

  • Respond to the case extension of the opposing closing team.

In addition, the final two speakers of the debate (known as the Whips) take on rebuttal-based roles.

  • The government whip and the opposition whip may not introduce new arguments for their team.

  • They must respond to both opposing sides' arguments;

  • They should briefly sum up their opening team's case;

  • They should offer a conclusion of their own team's case extension.

  • They should distinguish the arguments that their partner made from the arguments of opening government or opening opposition.

Points of Information

The style demands that all speakers offer Points of Information (POIs) to their opposition. To give a POI, a debater who is in the round but on the opposing side of the current speaker may stand up and wait to be called on. If the speaker chooses to call on the debater, the speaker yields the floor for up to 15 seconds, and the debater may offer an argument towards or ask a question to the speaker. POIs are important in British Parliamentary style, as it allows the opening teams to maintain their relevance during the course of the debate, and the closing teams to introduce their arguments early in the debate. The first and last minute of each speech is considered "protected time", during which no points of information may be offered.