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Sunday, September 8, 2019

How debating works #2 - Mace



Mace is one of the two most common debating formats used in the UK, along with British Parliamentary. It takes its name from the large ornamental silver club which rests on a table in the centre of the House of Commons. The Mace is the symbol of royal authority, and if it is not there the House of Commons cannot meet or pass laws. Given that debating is what the House of Commons does (as we have seen in the last few days ...), it is an appropriate name for a debating format.

How does Mace work?

  •  There are two speakers on each side.

  • It is long prep; speakers are usually given the motion several days in advance to prepare.

  • They speak for seven minutes each, alternating between proposition and opposition.

  • The first and last minute in each speech is ‘protected’ (meaning no one is allowed to make points of information during that time).

  • When all four debaters have spoken, speeches from the floor (i.e. short points from the audience) are heard.

  • One debater from each side then gives a summary speech, lasting four minutes, with the opposition speaking first. In this speech, they should not introduce any new material, but should instead respond to speeches from the floor, rebut their opponents' case, and summarise their own case.

  • Marks are awarded for both content of speeches and speaking style.

A variant on the basic Mace format is Extended Mace.

  • In Extended Mace, there are three speakers on each side.

  • The first two speakers on each side speak for seven minutes, alternating between proposition and opposition, with the first and last minute protected.

  • Speeches from the floor are then heard.

  • Finally, four minute summary speeches are given by the third speaker on each side, on the same basis as for regular Mace, with the opposition going first. 

The timing of speeches may be altered if there is less time available (for example in a lunchtime club in a school, or if speakers are less experienced).


Mace is a good format for beginning debaters, as the long prep and the more structured, less free flowing format than British Parliamentary can help them to feel more confident. It is also a good format to use in a school debating club, as it allows the audience to get more involved.

The major Mace competition in the UK is the Schools' Mace competition run by the English Speaking Union. It is the oldest and largest schools' debating competition, regularly attracting over 300 schools.

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