asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food whether he is aware of the option-purchase by his Department at Oxford, on 21st December, 1942, of some 95 acres of flatpole cabbage, then growing in Devonshire, for delivery as specified; for what reasons delivery was declined by letter from the Fruit and Vegetable Department, dated 4th March, 1943, though the growers were precluded from selling elsewhere during this period; is he aware that the whole crop has now become unfit for either human or cattle consumption; what is the total quantity and value involved in this wastage; whether any and what compensation for the loss will be offered; and what steps are proposed to prevent any such event occurring again?
While my hon. and gallant Friend does not, in his Question, give me precise particulars, I hope I have correctly identified the case he has in mind. In this case, as in others, my Department made no purchase of the crop but paid for an option to purchase. There was no obligation to take delivery. The contract provided for automatic and progressive releases of the crop during the period of its currency, and final release was given on 25th February. It appears, however, that the growers in question had in fact sold the crop to a third party, and it was to this third party that the subsequent letter of 4th March to which my hon. and gallant Friend refers, was addressed. I am unable to estimate the quantity or value of the crop, which I should emphasise was planted as a fodder crop. No question of compensation arises.
Will the hon. Gentleman say whether this option-purchase by his Department had the effect of precluding any other sale, and when it was, and to whom, any sub-contract was made; and is it not a fact that the whole of this crop is now lying rotten?
The option-contract provided for progressive releases of parts of the crop which growers could use as they pleased, and the fact that they did enter into a contract of sale shows in fact that they did not regard themselves as precluded from making any other sale. Of course, the option-contract does not preclude anyone from selling any interest outside the option.
Does the hon. Gentleman say that these crops were in fact sold, paid for and taken up by someone outside his Department?
No, I do not. I say that a contract of sale was entered into with a third party, and the third party, I think, has not taken up his contract.