This section provides advice on the rules relating to treating and the provision of food and drink or other items by MPs who are candidates.
Refreshments and giveaways
MPs, who are candidates, who provide refreshments at events or distribute free items may have questions or attract complaints about ‘treating’.
Treating is the giving or providing of food, drink, entertainment or provision to persons with the intention of corruptly influencing their vote and is a criminal offence. [See section 217 of the Electoral Act for a full description]
Section 217 is broadly phrased as to the period during which it applies: it covers actions “before, during, or after an election”.
The consequences of a conviction for treating are significant, including imprisonment, loss of a parliamentary seat or disqualification as a voter for three years.
Although the ambit is broad, the threshold for establishing treating is also high - a corrupt intention is required. The courts have previously held that the offence of ‘treating’ requires an intention on the part of the person treating to influence the votes of the persons treated.
There are very few court cases on the offence which makes it difficult to be definitive about what will constitute treating. However, in the Commission’s view these are some of the factors that we believe are relevant considerations:
- the scale and commercial value of the food, drink, entertainment or other provision are relevant. In our view this is key, treating requires a corrupt intent and a likelihood of influence - it does not apply to ordinary hospitality that is incidental to a political meeting,
- the target audience of the provision – providing food, drink, and entertainment at an event hosted by an MP at Parliament or for parliamentary staff is unlikely to be treating, but providing food, drink and entertainment at a public meeting carries more risk, and
- the extent to which the provision is accompanied by other political material.
In the Commission’s view, to avoid complaints it is prudent for MPs to act cautiously and with restraint in providing food, drink - especially alcohol - and entertainment as part of their political activities.
Free items handed out during the regulated period (or which continue to be published) that are election advertisements must be counted as an election expense.
MPs may also be involved in community or charitable fundraising activity in the run up to an election. For example, an MP may be invited to contribute an item to a charity auction or provide a raffle prize.
The Commission recommends MPs carefully consider what publicity there will be about any item given by an MP who is a candidate, particularly if it is close to an election.
Where the scale of the gift is modest and it is not accompanied by election-related material such activity is unlikely to be treating or attract complaints.
We are happy to provide a view on particular events or proposals.