I was frankly astonished by commenters on the last thread who claimed not to understand that it was an offence to distribute free food and drink at an election rally. For the avoidance of further doubt, here is the law in question, from the Representation of the People Act 1983:
114.-(1) A person shall be guilty of a corrupt practice if he .
is guilty of treating.
(2) A person shall be guilty of treating if he corruptly, by
himself or by any other person, either before, during or after an
election, directly or indirectly gives or provides, or pays wholly
or in part the expense of giving or providing, any meat, drink,
entertainment or provision to or for any person-
(a) for the purpose of corruptly influencing that person or
any other person to vote or refrain from voting ; or
(b) on account of that person or any other person having
voted or refrained from voting, or being about to vote
or refrain from voting.
(3) Every elector or his proxy who corruptly accepts or takes
any such meat, drink, entertainment or provision shall also be
guilty of treating.
This provision was first contained in the1832 Reform Act specifically to outlaw the practice of giving food and drink at election meetings. It has been reaffirmed in every Representation of the People Act since 1832.
This is an imprisonable criminal offence. It is not just an electoral regulation.
Tomorrow I will deliver several affidavits sworn before solicitors to Blackburn police. This is one example:
“I,,,,, OF ,,,,,,, BLACKBURN DO HEREBY AFFIRM AS FOLLOWS:
1, I attended an event in Audley yesterday on Sunday 25 April 2010 at Jan’s Conference Centre in Blackburn.
2. I heard that Mohammad Sarwar MP and the ex Prime Minister of Azad Kashmir Sultan Mahmood were going to be present.
3. I can confirm that the people on the stage were Mohammed Sarwar MP, Barrister Sultan Mahmood, Jack Straw MP, the ex Mayor Salas Kiyani, Lord Adam Patel and others.
4. They all gave speeches to support and ask us to vote for Jack Straw in the MP elections.
5. We were given free food consisting of roti, meat curry, sweet rice and coke.
I CONFIRM THAT THE CONTENTS OF THIS AFFADAVIT ARE TRUE AND TO THE BEST OF MY KNOWLEDGE AND BELIEF
Affirmed this 26th day of April 2010
By the within named …… at
BLACKBURN in the County of Lancashire
Solicitor and Commissioner for Oaths”
The question raised is a stark one. Are New Labour ministers above the law? I have absolutely no doubt that if I, when an independent parliamentary candidate, had provided food for several hundred electors at a rally, I would have been jailed for it.
The blog is infested by a number of commenters who are trying to argue that Jack Straw was not in breach of the law in just giving a meal. This is however precisely what the law was to outlaw. This Hansard extract on a discussion of an amendment to set a value limit is instructive – the amendment was defeated.
|| MR. WARTON said, the Amendment he now proposed to move was one which provided some kind of limit. Ho moved the insertion, at the end of the clause, of the words?” Provided always, That such meat, drink entertainment, or provisions shall exceed in value the sum of one shilling. He thought that, on the principle de minimis non curat lex, they should not legislate with regard to what a high authority had called “trivial expenditure,” and that the giving to a voter of a small quantity of meat or bread not exceeding in value 1s., should not subject persons to severe pains and penalties. Ho hoped that the hon. and learned Gentleman would accept the Amendment. The hon. and learned Gentleman had very kindly accepted other Amendments, and he hoped the hon. and learned Gentleman would continue the same conciliatory course. He understood that the regular Birmingham breakfast provided for the electors of the borough cost 1s. 6d. a head. He did not wish to be so corrupt as they 578 were in Birmingham; but he thought there could be no harm in providing refreshments which should not cost more than 1s. He knew the price of beer, and they could get tolerable beer for 8d. or 10d. a pot.
|| MR. ONSLOW And for half that price.
|| MR. WARTON said, he saw no reason why a drink of beer and a crust of bread, which cost less than 1s., should be regarded as a corrupt expenditure. He hoped the Committee would not deem it desirable to increase the expenditure of Election Petitions by trying every case in which a man had received less than 1s. worth of refreshment.
|| Amendment proposed, In line 1, page 23, at end, to add “Provided always, That such meat, drink, entertainment or provision shall exceed in value the sum of one shilling.”?”(Mr. Warton.)
|| Question proposed, “That those words be there added.”
|| SIR CHARLES W. DILKE said, he could not accept the Amendment, which would simply have the effect of legalizing an improper expenditure for drink and. treating, providing that the treating did not exceed the value of 1s. He could not think the Committee would feel inclined to accept such an Amendment.
It could not be more clear that what Jack Straw did is a criminal offence.