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Mr. Evans: I certainly would not ask my hon. Friend to do anything of that sort. He is right to say that we do not know, because when the motion has been approved the matter will go to a closed Committee on Thursday, with no record of proceedings or votes.

The Government Whip is listening attentively. He will be in the Programming Sub-Committee, but I will not know what has been said if I am not there. How can we support the motion when we do not know how much time will be allocated? Various issues were raised on Second Reading, and right hon. and hon. Members may want to discuss them at length in Committee. We are being asked to give the Programming Sub-Committee a blank cheque to decide in secret how much time is allotted to a very important Bill that has our full support.

Why cannot the sitting be open, so that everyone can hear what is said by Government and Opposition Members and fully understand our positions? Many children's charities are interested in the Bill and have already made representations to us. They may be horrified to find that important matters have been allotted only a short time for consideration. That is wholly wrong. Let us have transparency and allow the charities to make up their own minds about who is giving fair consideration to the Bill.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): My hon. Friend has made a powerful point about charities. Does he agree that charities will think it extraordinary that the very party that pressed, both in opposition and in government, for freedom of information legislation is now saying that it wants closed government, concealed from the public and from those who are interested in this very worthwhile Bill?

Mr. Evans: Of course. This is not freedom of information, it is freedom for the Government to do what they want and railroad through the legislation in a carefully scheduled and timetabled way, with scant regard for the proper scrutiny that we are here to give.

To be an effective Opposition, we need sufficient time to scrutinise the legislation properly and consider the suggestions that the children's charities have carefully worked out. Several Government Back Benchers spoke about some of those suggestions. If we do not have enough time to scrutinise amendments, the resulting legislation may be deficient and we will not have done our job properly.

Several children's charities have made representations to us on the matter. The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) spoke passionately during the Second Reading debate; he will want to table amendments--like him, we share some of the concerns expressed by the charities. He said that he wants the measure to be enacted as soon as possible--as do we.

Of course, we know that there is pressure on Government time; they may want to call a general election--the sooner the better for us; we welcome the

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election as soon as possible. We do not know whether the general election will be called in April, in May or even later. We know that the Government could continue until next year, but it is unlikely that they will want to do so because wheels are falling off their bandwagon and, every week, something new turns up. They will want to go to the polls as quickly as they can.

That limits the time for our discussion of this legislation. If the Government could indicate when the general election will be held--I am sure that the Under-Secretary of State for Wales is privy to regular discussions on such matters with the Prime Minister--we could more carefully arrange the timetable ourselves so as to ensure that the Bill is passed; we want it to become an Act.

The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy said that he did not want the Bill to proceed with undue haste. I agree. We do not want a quick, shoddy measure that will not do the job that we intend for it. We want an effective measure under which the Children's Commissioner will have the powers that he deems necessary to do a good job in Wales. We all want that, so we must make certain that, in the time allotted for examination of the Bill in Committee, we give due and proper consideration to the amendments that we table.

Mr. Fabricant: Does my hon. Friend agree that, whatever the date of the general election--even if it were as early as 1 April, if that is a Thursday--to conclude the proceedings of the Standing Committee by Thursday 1 February would be extremely fast? Even if the Standing Committee were to conclude a month later than that, on 1 March, it would still be possible for Third Reading before the end of March, so the measure would still become law before a general election.

Mr. Evans: Part of the problem is the imposition of artificial dates and the pushing through of amendments not only from the Conservatives and other Opposition parties--so-called Opposition, in the case of the Liberal Democrat party--but from Labour Members. We have heard impassioned pleas for the extension of the powers of the Children's Commissioner beyond the remit of the Welsh Assembly, for example.

The NSPCC has issued a parliamentary briefing in which it welcomes

I agree with the NSPCC; the amendments are uncontroversial. However, part of what the NSPCC asks for is included in our reasoned amendment, to which the Government took umbrage. How can we accept that the Government will agree to the uncontroversial amendments, in which we and some Government Back Benchers believe, without proper argument from members of that Committee?

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): My hon. Friend's remarks have been predicated on the fact that only the Government and Opposition Front Benchers will want to contribute to the Committee. Under the timetable that we are discussing, there is no excuse for Government Back

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Benchers not to undertake their duty as Members of this place and to contribute to the debate on exactly the same basis as members of the Committee. They will, of course, form a majority, and time should be allowed for them to make a proper contribution, based on all the points that they wish to make.

Mr. Evans: I shall have more discussions, such as those that I had today, with a number of children's charities, and I know that those charities will also talk to Government Members. That is what Standing Committees are all about; indeed, it is what Parliament is all about--holding the Executive to account. Guillotines are always thought of as ways of shutting up Opposition Members, but they also restrict the contributions that Government Members can make on important legislation and on issues that affect their constituencies.

That worries me. Effective Back Benchers do not necessarily have to be members of the Opposition; they simply need a mind, a heart, passion, and to believe in something. The fact that they happen to sit on the Government side does not mean that they must check in their brains before they come in through the arch, have nothing to say, sit compliantly behind and nod at whatever the Minister happens to say.

There is a great onus on Government Back Benchers to pay careful attention to what their Government are doing. We have only to consider the arithmetic of this place to know that if the Government want to force things through, they will get their majority. To change the Government's mind, we need Government Back Benchers with backbone, to stand up and march through the Lobby with us. We need them to have the time to listen to the representations by pressure groups outside and to present those arguments to Ministers. In Committee, Ministers, too, need the opportunity and the time to respond to the amendments that those Back Benchers table.

If there is an allotted amount of time, and someone tables an amendment on incorporating the United Nations convention on the rights of the child in the Bill, how do we know how much time will be given to that aspect of the legislation? We know that the National Assembly for Wales wanted the convention to be duly recognised in the Bill, and several Government Members mentioned it on Second Reading. The official Opposition will want to test the Government on the subject, too. The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy has mentioned the UN convention, as have the Liberal Democrats. The entire House is as one on the matter--apart from Ministers, who say that they are very cautious about incorporating the convention in the Bill.

How do we know that sufficient time will be given to enable all Members to make their representations to the Minister in Committee, and to allow the Minister to argue cogently why he cannot accept amendments supported by so many Members? The Standing Committee represents the part of our proceedings when the Members who know most about the subject have the opportunity to table amendments, yet we do not know whether the Government will allot sufficient time.

Mr. Bercow: My hon. Friend is developing a powerful argument about the legislature's responsibility to hold the Executive to account. However, is he aware that, during approximately 15 hours' debate in the Committee with

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which I am currently involved--this is directly relevant to the point that my hon. Friend is making, Madam Deputy Speaker--only one of seven Government Back Benchers has so far made a speech, and a pretty short and ineffectual one at that, and two of them have yet to open their mouths? Is my hon. Friend aware that the Conservative Members who serve on that Committee are still trying to work out whether the Labour Members have absolutely nothing to say, or whether they have something to say but have been instructed in no uncertain terms not to say it?

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