Does my right hon. Friend agree that today's strong vote by the Assistant Masters and Mistresses Association against strikes contrasts with yesterday's strikes by other teacher unions? That underlines the disunity within the teaching profession. Surely the time has come for all strikes to end, in the interests of children, and for my right hon. Friend and all teachers' unions to produce a successor to the Burnham machinery for the discussion, as soon as possible, of teachers' pay and conditions and, above all, a strike-free deal.
I warmly welcome the fact that the third largest teachers' union, the AMMA, has voted today not to go on strike. This means that in the ballots which have been held fewer than half the teachers overall have voted for strike or other action. In my view, and I think that of most people, these strikes are totally unjustified. Parents do not understand why teachers are causing disruption when what is proposed will mean a 25 per cent. pay increase over 18 months.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that Norman Willis has said that the two largest teachers' unions should merge and that their rivalry has done teachers no good? Might he not have added that their rivalry has done the children no good either and that the sooner they get back to work the better?
That is very good advice from on high. I should like to add my words to it. I very much hope that as a result of today's ballot those militant union leaders who are still calling out some of their members on strike will stop. The only people who suffer as a result of these strikes are the children. We should not take it out on the children.
As the Secretary of State well knows, the alliance does not believe that the teachers should be striking at the moment. Does he agree that that action will damage not only the children's education but the teachers' cause? Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that many people outside the House and, indeed, outside politics, recognise that his action in withdrawing without limit the rights to negotiate pay and conditions was a deliberately provocative act, so that he now bears the burden of the blame for some of the disruption which is going on in our schools?
The hon. Gentleman should appreciate that the Government introduced the interim advisory committee because the negotiating procedures had led nowhere over the past four years. I have provided a breathing space and a cooling-off period to determine more permanent satisfactory arrangements. I very much hope that all the unions will take advantage of this cooling-off period.
I welcome AMMA's decision today. Will my right hon. Friend welcome the enormous increase in the membership of the Professional Association of Teachers, which, as a union committed not to strike, has increased its membership from 16,000 in 1980, when it was recognised, to 42,000 today? Will he take this opportunity to remind those who deplore the leadership of the NUT and the National Association of Schoolmasters that there is another strong union today?
My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right. The union which has grown most in the past few years is the Professional Association of Teachers, which is committed not to taking strike action. The other union which has also grown is AMMA, which today voted against striking. The union which has dropped in membership is the NUT, which is out on strike. I think that I speak for the whole House when I say that I very much hope that these disruptive strikes will come to an end. They are not justified.
Is it not a fact that, whoever has voted not to come out on strike, three quarters of the teaching profession have voted to do so? [Interruption.] That, despite all the attempts to shout me down, is the reality of what the Secretary of State has done to the education of our children by trying to get rid of a negotiating process which has existed for more than 100 years, and which has never been broken before, except by this tyrannical Government.
Not for the first time, the hon. Gentleman has got his figures all wrong. Fewer than half the teaching profession has voted to take strike action. Indeed, the response to the strike action was very patchy last week. In some counties, only 5 per cent. of the schools were closed. There were stronger responses in the cities and towns, but much less in the rural areas and in the primary schools. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will add his voice in his union to discourage further strike action.
I would emphasise to my hon. Friend that I have said that we now have a cooling-off period in order to determine more permanent and satisfactory arrangements. There are broadly two views, one moving to an independent review body, coupled with certain conditions—possibly a "no-strike" arrangement—or, alternatively some form of joint negotiation. We cannot return to the latter at the moment, because the unions are hopelessly divided. So a cooling-off period is needed.
We deeply regret the continued disruption in our schools. Nobody wants the teachers to be on strike, but is it not the case that when the Secretary of State removed teachers' bargaining rights and imposed his own plan he was taking a dangerous gamble—one that has not come off? Does he not understand that parents who have had to put up with at least two years' disruption are now expecting him to use the authority of his office to bring peace to our classrooms by hastening a return to collective bargaining?
The hon. Gentleman deplores the strike. Could he perhaps express that view to a prominent member of the Labour party and chairman of the Trades Union Congress, Mr. Fred Jarvis, and deplore the fact that these unions and their militant leaders are calling teachers out on strike? These strikes are harmful to the children. Those teachers who come out will not be forgiven. The proposals that I have put forward are of an interim nature. What we want is to move towards better, permanent arrangements.