Types of Motions in Parliamentary Debate

This article serves as an introduction to the different types of motions in every round.


Parliamentary debate is unique in that every round is entirely impromptu. Depending on the competition circuit, the directors share the topic somewhere from fifteen to twenty minutes before the round. Occasionally, you will have access to internet preparation, but the majority of topic interpretation is left up to the debater in an eerily short period of time. The best way to analyze motions in Parliamentary debate is through three categories: policy, value and fact motions.


Policy Motions

The purpose of a policy motion is in the name. The debate will be about the specific pros and cons of passing a particular policy. Typically, the affirmative team defends a policy already in place or proposes a new policy. Thus, the role of the negation team is to attack a policy in the status quo or in the future. The negation team also has grounds to propose a counterplan text or an alternative policy that better solves a given issue. For example, take the topic: “This House would make social media companies liable for user-based content.” The affirmative team must defend the policy of ensuring liability for social media companies. Conversely, the negation team has the option to either attack the policy itself or propose a counterplan text that better solves the issue of harmful user-based content online. A key way to identify a policy motion is by recognizing specific words in the motion. For example, words such as “would'' or “should” denote the adoption of a policy or action. Additionally, any time a specific actor is named, such as California or the USFG, it is probably a policy motion. Policy motions are by far the easiest to interpret and are the most common at Parliamentary tournaments.


Value Motions


While a policy motion debates a specific policy, a value motion interprets an idea or social construct. Usually, a motion will be framed around an ethical dilemma. The affirmative team takes a stance on defending the dilemma through principled argumentation. The negation team directly attacks the proposed solution to the dilemma but typically does not propose a counterplan text like in policy motions. In most rounds, each side will pick a value the round should be weighed upon, such as utilitarianism, freedom of expression or beneficence. For example, analyze the motion: “Artists ought not to participate in the ongoing interpretation of their art.” The affirmative team will likely lay out a case determining that context is necessary to preserve the revolutionary nature of art. Comparatively, the negation team will state that allowing artists to interpret their art reduces the power of the individual consumer and reduces connections to the work. In order to identify value motions, think deeply about the type of argumentation required to build a case. If the case is not centered around pragmatism or practical arguments, the motion likely fits under the value category.



Fact Motions


The final type of Parliamentary motion is a fact motion. Typically, the motion will be worded in such a way that the affirmative team must defend the wording of the topic, while the negation team must prove that the idea presented is unfactual. For example, the motion, “Brexit will lead to a united Ireland, states a clear fact.” The affirmative team will build a case on the idea of incentives and historical actions that would indicate the event of Brexit would necessitate a united Ireland. The negation team would prove that the affirmative interpretation is false or that Brexit will not lead to a united Ireland. These debates are concentrated in sources and facts, so ensuring that there are clear lines of analysis and, most importantly, warrants, is essential to the quality of the round.


Identifying the type of motion in a round is crucial to setting up proper and framing and argumentation. To practice identifying motions, visit previous parliamentary tournament pages and go through their topic lists.


For more information on the content discussed in this article, please visit our Parliamentary Resource page.


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