Clerk of Legislation in the House of Commons, Robert Rogers discusses the importance of debates and how they can be used to help campaigns.


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Who is talking?

Robert Rogers - Clerk of Legislation in the House of Commons

Robert Rogers is the Clerk of Legislation in the House of Commons, and is responsible for the legislative process in that House. He is also a Clerk at the Table, where he advises the Chair and Members on the business before the House. He lectures and writes about Parliament, and is co-author of How Parliament Works.




Debate is at the heart of Parliament. Everything that comes here is tested in some way in debate.  Whether it’s bills, government spending plans, policies on social affairs, crime, education, even peace and war; all tested in debate.  If you look actually at the word ‘debateable’ it means, something that is in doubt, something which has to be sorted out by arguments on one side or the other.

Debate can be you and me discussing something that we don’t quite agree with or perhaps we disagree violently about; but whether we do that over a drink or a cup of coffee, whether we do it in a classroom or whether we do it just walking along the street – we are still debating and that is the essence of debate – it can take place anywhere.  Civilised conversation can take place anywhere and good debate is actually civilised conversation.

The first thing is what are you going to debate?  It’s quite a good idea to have the subject really quite well defined so it’s not too long; it doesn’t have too many ‘sub’ subjects which are going to be confusing.  Try and keep it to a simple proposition on which people can express their views.  The essence of debate is that one shouldn’t be upset about opposition.  Debate is about opposition.  Debate is about testing things so that challenge and criticism makes them sounder ideas then they were in the first place. 

So, what makes a good debater?  It’s being well prepared, having a good case, having your own point of view. But it’s also readiness to accept that you don’t know everything at that stage, and one of the key things debates will do for you, that will actually benefit you, is hearing the view of others. And in hearing the views of others I think you have to be tolerant and accepting of them.  You have to be prepared to listen and you have to be prepared to say “yeah, actually that’s quite a good idea.  I’ll adopt that. ” And as result of that your case may end up much stronger simply because of the criticism you’ve heard and the way that you have reacted to it.