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The Parliamentary debate: what you need to know

Posted by: Policy and campaigning 14 August 2014

Following the success of Maggie Watts' e-petition (over 106,000 signatures achieved) a Parliamentary debate on pancreatic cancer awareness and research has been scheduled  for Monday 8th September between 4.30pm and 7.30pm in Parliament's COMMITTEE ROOM 10*.You can read more about the background to the petition and the campaign here.

But you may still have questions: what does having the debate mean? How will it work? How can you follow it? What can you do to help make the most of it? What will happen after it? Our Campaigns and Policy Manager David answers the important questions about the day.

*The disabled access lift to Westminster Hall is out of order until October. As such, the Speaker has relocated all debates from Westminster Hall during the month of September. The debate will now be held in Committee Room 10 in the main Committee Corridor. 

What does having the debate mean for pancreatic cancer campaigning?

The debate is a fantastic way to highlight - both inside and outside of Parliament - the many issues that need to be addressed to improve pancreatic cancer survival rates. It will focus on the main topics raised in the petition such as the need to:

  •  boost general awareness of symptoms  
  •  improve accurate and early diagnosis by GPs
  •  increase the amount of research funding into pancreatic cancer.

Other issues might be raised by MPs too.

The important thing is that a Health Minister (in this case Jane Ellison MP)  is required to attend the whole debate and respond verbally, meaning all the issues above will be heard personally by the Minister. Moreover, the Minister's response will put on record the Government's position on each point raised by MPs during the debate. This will help with future campaigning as it will pinpoint areas where we know more persuasion is needed.

Finally, the debate has allowed us, and many of you, to communicate directly with MPs, by asking them to attend and take part in the debate. Even if they do not actually take part, contacts have been made that will help future campaigning work.

How will the debate work?

Three hours have been allocated for debate; which is quite a long time. However, it might not last the full three hours as it will depend on how many MPs take part.

The format will see the lead MP - in this case Maggie's local MP and Vice Chair of the APPG on Pancreatic Cancer Nic Dakin - open the debate with a speech of around 20 minutes. It is likely that the Chair of the APPG, Eric Ollerenshaw MP, will also be allowed around 20 minutes to speak if he wants. Nic and Eric will then be followed by other MPs who might be given around 10 minutes each, although all of these times will depend on how many MPs want to take part.

Enough time must be left at the end to allow both the Opposition Health Spokesperson and the Government Health Minister about 20 minutes each to respond. The final 5 minutes of the debate will be passed back to Nic Dakin to summarise.

How can you follow the debate?

Anyone can stream the debate live over the internet live viahttp://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Home.aspx. And a full written record of the debate will be available in Hansard on Parliament's website the following day.

Can I attend the debate in person?

We know many people are wanting to make the trip to London to try and watch the debate in person. There is a public gallery in COMMITTEE ROOM10 but it only has a capacity of about 30, which means it cannot be guaranteed that everyone who wants to will be able to get in to see the debate live. If capacity is reached we're working with the Chairman of the APPG, Eric Ollerenshaw MP, to provide an overspill room with a TV feed for people to watch proceedings from there.

We have also arranged opportunities for people making the trip to London to meet each other both before and after the debate itself. We will be teaming up with Pancreatic Cancer Action to provide tea, coffee and snacks in Parliament's Jubilee Room from 3.15pm. And after the debate we have booked tables in St Steven's Tavern, a pub next to Westminster Tube Station, from 7.45pm.

If you do intend to come to London it would be extremely helpful if you email campaignforhope@pancreaticcancer.org.uk in advance so we have an idea of numbers. We can also make sure that you have the best information about how to gain entrance to Westminster.

What can you do to help make the most of the debate?

If you have not done so already, write to your MP and ask them to attend and take part in the debate. Use our template letter to your MP, as it has all the important details in it. But please do take a moment to personalise it and let your MP know why this issue is so important to you; the personal touch really does make all the difference.

You might also want to let your local press know about the debate, especially if you worked hard to get signatures for the petition. If your local paper covered that story before they might like to do a follow up piece. Please do refer to our website for details on what this debate means in political terms but the main point is that the debate is the reward for all your hard work and don't forget to tell them why the issue is so important to you. If you want any advice on obtaining media coverage please email comms@pancreaticcancer.org.uk and we will be happy to help.

Following the debate you might also like to send a letter to your local paper summarising the key issues that were raised. We will be putting a template letter online nearer the time.

What happens after the debate?

Whilst the debate is an important and valuable way to get politicians and policy-makers to take note of changes that need to be made, the truth is nothing will change overnight. There will be much more campaigning to be done around the whole of the UK to bring about the improvements to pancreatic cancer awareness, diagnosis, treatment and care we all want to see. The debate will act a springboard for us to make the case for those changes over the coming months, so stick with us and you'll help continue to affect change in the future.