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Parliamentary Debate


You may have heard about parliamentary procedure. Parliamentary debate uses a similar but not identical format. Both are based on the British model of government. The idea is that when "motions" (ideas for change or concern) are brought before the "house" (the governing body) the discussion should take a certain format so that the playing field is fair.

Parliamentary Goals

  • First, there is a "government" team, consisting of two people, and an "opposition" team, also with two members.
  • It is the government's job to support or uphold the "motion" (topic of the debate)
  • Usually the government team discusses a problem in the topic area and has a specific proposal for change regarding that problem.
  • It is the burden of the opposition team to play "devil's advocate," so to speak.
  • The opposition team tries to find the weaknesses in the government's arguments.
  • Thus, throughout the debate, the government and opposition teams clash on the issues regarding the problem in a back and forth fashion.

Parliamentary Debate Format

  1. The two teams are given the motion.
  2. The Government team begins the debate by delivering the first speech—a speech that outlines and describes their support of the motion. 7 minutes
  3. They have 15 minutes to prepare their respective cases.
  4. The Opposition team then responds to this speech with a speech constructing their critique of the Government's case. 8 minutes
  5. The Government team responds to the Opposition's arguments, attempting to reassert their own position. 8 minutes
  6. The Opposition team responds in the same manner. 8 minutes
  7. The Opposition team concludes with a "rebuttal" speech—a speech designed to act as a summary of the important issues to think about in the debate. 4 minutes
  8. The Government team finishes with its own rebuttal speech 5 minutes

During the Debate

  1. During any speech, other than rebuttals, any team member can stand up and ask a question/make a short statement, called a point of information—this is used to clarify any issues being discussed.
  2. During any speech any team member can stand up and call a point of personal privilege, if they feel that the other team is being offensive in any way (this calls attention to the rude behavior in the judge's mind).
  3. During any speech any team member can stand up and call a point of order, if they feel that some rule of the debate has been violated by the other team (again, bringing this to the judge's attention so that it will factor into the judge's decision).

A Typical Tournament

  • Most have 4 to 6 preliminary rounds that everyone gets to compete in.
  • Then, based on win/loss records AND speaker points (a "grade" assigned to each participant based on their public speaking skills), the top teams will move to the elimination rounds.
  • If you win an elimination round, you advance to the next; if you lose you are done.
  • After all elimination rounds are complete, TROPHIES are awarded to the teams with the best win/loss records AND to individuals who have the highest speaking grade.
  • Tournaments are held on weekends and usually take two days; Ferris tends to travel to one tournament a month on average.

For more information about parliamentary debate, visit the National Parliamentary Debate Association.