4 APRIL 1947, Page 2

Summer Coal

The most likely date for a full-scale production crisis due to a shortage of coal lies in the period February-April, 1948, but that does not mean that the country is presented with a breathing-space. Whether that crisis can be avoided-will be decided by the size of the available stocks at the beginning of November, from which date consumption in normal circumstances is liable to outrun production. Whether the stock available on November 1st will be big enough— and 15,00o,000 is a rather risky minimum—depends on production during the six months beginning May ist. And whether the necessary production in that period, which the Prime Minister last week estimated at 102,000,000 tons, will be reached, or a deficiency met by orderly economies, depends on decisions taken now. There can be no excuse for lack of foresight this time. Decisions taken after the end of this month will be not planning but improvisation. Clearly the decisions must be very sweeping, for in the summer months of 1946 about 94,000,000 tons were produced, and to increase the figure to zoo,000,000 would require a tremendous effort. Indeed, Sir Stafford Cripps, speaking only three weeks ago, budgeted for 91,000,000 tons only. Consequently there can be no quarrelling with Mr. Attlees announcement that domestic consumption most be limited and railway travel cut. The only impatience about that which can be justified is impatience for the announcement of the details of the domestic limitation scheme and, above all, impatience with those amateur economists who glibly accept the possibility of coal imports. Coal imports there may have to be, but to accept them without a murmur at this time of day is foolishness or worse. Coal imports, let it be emphasised, are a disaster second only to com- plete breakdown and the more often that is said the better. If by

hook or by crook the excellent coal production figure of last week can be maintained that will be an infinitely better answer than any scheme for imports or even for the purchase of foreign bunker coal.