Opening the debate

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    The proceedings traditionally begin when the person appointed to moderate the debate sets the emblem of the society - the "Apple of Discord" - upon the (upturned) "Cup of Human Contentment". By custom this person is known as "the Grand" and addressed as "My Grand". All speeches are delivered from a lectern ("the Box") and are addressed to the Grand rather than to the meeting as a whole.

    The first person to be called by the Grand is "the Opener" - a member who has been given the task of recapitulating the most important stories from the news that have taken place since the previous meeting. The Opener presents a 10 to 15 minute address recapitulating the important events that have been reported since the previous meeting and suggests various lines of discussion.

    Within the general theme of "Current Events", the Opener may introduce any material of his or her own choosing but, by tradition, is expected to make s "Loyal Reference" - a comment upon activities of the Queen or another member of the British Royal Family. This custom was adopted as a precaution at the time of the American and French revolutions when it was common for spies from the Home Office to infiltrate meetings and report on the possible use of seditious language. Today, the occasion is used, not infrequently, to express republican opinions.
    Custom gives the Opener the opportunity to present his or her views without interruption. A good Opening will introduce a wide variety of different items and will stimulate other people into ideas and discussio

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    The Main Debate

    When the Opening is concluded, the Grand will offer an opportunity to other members (and visitors) to comment upon the items that have already been mentioned or to introduce new material for discussion. Normal practice nowadays is for these speeches to be no longer than 5 minutes.

    Within the traditions of the society, the Grand is in full control of the debate and ensures that the meeting is conducted according to its Standing Orders. Like the Speaker of the House of Commons, the Grand does not participate in the discussions.

    From time to time other participants may wish to challenge the ideas of the speaker with a question or comment of their own. The Standing Orders (not always rigorously enforced) require that anyone wishing to challenge or question the speaker at the Box should signal their intention to the Grand. Such challenges or questions (referred to as ‘heckles’) should be confined to a single sentence and are not an opportunity to make a speech from the floor or to conduct a dialogue with the speaker at the Box. The speaker is fully entitled to decline a question or a challenge from the floor.

    The Grand is empowered to determine, at least for the duration of the debate, the dividing line between acceptable and unacceptable language and may require a speaker (or heckler) to withdraw the use of words and phrases which may give offence. Moreover, the Grand has the power, if he should ever need it, to close the debate if he senses a challenge to his authority or the possibility of disorder. These powers have not been exercised in recent years. The Standing Orders of the society give the Grand virtually despotic power over the conduct of the debate. These powers are tempered only in so far as a new person is called to the office of Grand at each debate

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    The Grand decides when to call an interval and how long that interval will be. He (or she) also ensures that the debate will finish on time – usually after two hours. When the debate is concluded, the Grand will call upon another member appointed to act as Evaluator for the evening. The task of the Evaluator is to comment upon the general tone and performances of the debate, possibly to suggest how speakers might improve their effectiveness, and to award the "Apple of Discord" to the best speaker of the evening.