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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 April 2007, 13:32 GMT 14:32 UK
Parties 'bribe voters with meals'
Is food at election rallies becoming more tempting?
Election candidates are laying on lavish meals at rallies in an effort to bribe voters, a Lib Dem peer claims.

Activists are banned from serving anything more than light refreshments, such as tea and biscuits, at meetings.

But Lord Greaves said the rules were being flouted by all the main parties in an effort to attract voters.

Activists have been warned they face fines or jail for illegally "treating" voters, ahead of May's Scottish, Welsh and English local council elections.

The "treating" rules were brought in to end the widespread bribery of voters in the 19th Century, when people would be plied with food and drink to gain their support.

The practice was thought to have died out. The Electoral Commission said there had been only seven allegations of "treating" in the past five years, none of which had resulted in a prosecution.

'Full-scale buffet'

But Lord Greaves said all of the main parties were turning a blind eye to the practice because they were all engaged in it.

It was particularly prevalent in Asian areas, he added, as it was considered "impolite" not to provide food for supporters.

But he said it was "only a matter of time" before a candidate was prosecuted as the size of the meals being offered was getting out of hand.

Some people go along to the rallies of a particular candidate because they know they are going to get a lot of food
Lord Greaves

"Nowadays it is widely flouted. In some areas people put on full-scale buffet dinners and that is clearly against election rules," he told the BBC News website.

"Some people go along to the rallies of a particular candidate because they know they are going to get a lot of food."

The former Lancashire county councillor said he was not calling for a ban on food at election meetings - just better clarification on what was allowed, so there was a "level playing field".

"People need to know if they can serve chapattis but not a full-scale curry and rice meal, or tea and biscuits but not a roast beef dinner. We need to know where the line is."

Unlimited fine

He said he had been disappointed by the government's response when he raised the issue last week in the House of Lords.

Baroness Ashton, a constitutional affairs minister, told peers that serving food would be a breach of the Representation of the People Act 1983.

"Corruptly influencing a person to vote by providing them with meat, entertainment or other provision is an offence punishable by up to one year in prison, or an unlimited fine, or both," she said.

But Lord Greaves said he wanted the Electoral Commission to investigate the alleged practice and, if necessary, issue new guidance.

A spokesman for the Electoral Commission said it would be up to a court to decide whether food provided at a meeting counted as an illegal inducement to vote - or not vote - or were merely "incidental".


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