I rise briefly to support my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Mitchell). I am sorry that he did not receive more attention from some of the less serious hon. Members in moving what I regard as an important new clause. My hon. Friend set out the arguments clearly for what is by any standards an ample new clause. It can be seen that it provides a power that is properly circumscribed and subject to proper constraints and that it would be foolish of the House not to provide such power for the Secretary of State.
There are occasions of which we are all aware when the settlement of a dispute runs up against the clock and only in the latter stages of the dispute do the two sides get down to serious negotiation. If there were the risk of a dispute, a stoppage or an interruption of the seriousness that my hon. Friend has described, and which is well described in the clause, which could imperil life and present a threat to national security—such circumstances could involve the whole nation and our responsibility as a Parliament—we would wish to see negotiators provided with extra time in which to continue their work and hopefully arrive at a solution. In the new clause we have changed the length of time. We think there is a strong argument for saying that the original provision of 60 days was too long.
There is a problem of acceptance by union negotiators and members in the type of situation we are dealing with. Thirty days may seem a more acceptable interruption than 60 days. It is not unreasonable to expect industrial action to be suspended for that period. It is not linked to a ballot. I share the reservations of my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke about the disadvantages of a ballot. This is not a substantial change or a radical alteration. It is merely a useful additional power which could be held by the Secretary of State in the national interest. He could use it only if it was conductive to the settlement of a dispute.
Obviously, many hon. Members will say that there will be many occasions when such a provision will not help. In that event it would not apply. There are, however, occasions when a little extra time could help to prevent a damaging dispute. The proposal is properly circumscribed in that not only does the Secretary of State have to be satisfied that it would be helpful but he has to persuade an independent High Court judge.
It would represent no fundamental change of ground for the Government to accept the new clause. It is a useful additional power which could be of real benefit to the nation in certain circumstances when there could otherwise be extremely damaging, dangerous and disruptive disputes.