3 DECEMBER 1948, Page 2

Coal and Politics

As the General Election draws nearer the chances of treating coal production as a question of et‘onotnic organisation grow smaller. Coal, like steel, is being transferred from the economic frying-pan to the political fire. This week's Commons debate was formally concerned with a Bill to enlarge the Coal Board, authorise the Board to do business abroad, improve welfare and safety arrangements, and tidy up a number of points of administrative detail. Mr. Robens, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power, called it a simple little Bill. As Bills go nowadays that was a reasonably accurate description. But the extension of the powers of the Coal Board, at a time when it is clear that the Board cannot exercise adequately the powers which it already has, is by no means a simple little issue. The Burrows Report, Sir Charles Reid's views on the reorganisation of the Coal Board, and the views of the Con- servative Party on the same subject were all, in their various degrees, critical. And the reorganisation of the Coal Board is not a simple little matter. It requires careful and objective discussion—the more so since all parties, including the Board itself, are agreed that reforms are necessary. Consequently it is equally undesirable that the Government should pretend on the one hand that Parliamentary discussion should be confined strictly to the present Bill, and on the other hand that the growing discontent with the performance of the Coal Board is merely a Tory ramp. The faults in the present organisation of the coal industry are real. The discontent is real. And neither is likely to be removed by an attempt to subordinate economic issues to political expediency. The Government is clearly determined to admit no major defect in the nationalised coal industry until the election is over. The Opposition is equally determined to get full political advantage out of every criticism of the Coal Board. And in the meantime the Board goes doggedly on with a task which is almost certainly too great for its powers.