With just weeks to the local polls, the Respect Party faces a crisis with a police investigation into claims that a Birmingham candidate flouted election laws.

Lynne Hubbard, the anti-war party's candidate for Moseley and Kings Heath, has been accused of a 'treating' incident at a political rally.

Respect supporters were given curry and nan bread at a publicised 'Election Rally' at Sparkbrook Mosque & Community Centre last Saturday.

The Representation of the People's Act 1983 forbids candidates from offering "any meat, drink, entertainment or provision" to anyone voting at an election.

The punishment for corrupt practices is a year's imprison-ment, a fine of £5,000 and the disqualification from holding public office.

Police can only act against electoral offences if they are reported to them. A West Midlands Police spokesman yesterday said the force had received a complaint following the incident.

Respect's Birmingham spokesman Andy North said it was common for the party to hand out food at rallies.

He claimed party officials were unaware that treating was an offence as Respect was still on a "learning curve" after only two years fighting elections.

He said: "We were not aware that this is an offence of treating and we have unintentionally sailed into waters that we would have not wanted to.

"There will be no repeat of this. It was unintentional and was done to make the rally a social occasion, not to influence the vote.

"It is really quite common in the Asian community to have food at a meeting. This is something that we have to be quite careful about."

Mr North said Respect was informed about the incident by an opposition politician, who told the party that a complaint would not be made to the police if there was no repeat of the offence.

However, a spokesman from West Midlands Police said officers have already notified the Crown Prosecution Service after a complaint was received.

The spokesman said: "We have received a complaint from a member of the public about the contents of a leaflet and will be liaising with CPS colleagues to assess its content and determine whether any further action is appropriate."

The offence of treating is rare and the last known case was thought to be about 100 years ago. The mainstream parties issue codes of conducts to their candidates to warn about practices which could see them flout electoral laws.

It is understood that Birmingham City Council's chief legal officer Mirza Ahmad has been notified of the Respect case. An Electoral Commission spokeswoman said there were no records of a modern example of treating.

She added: "It is a serious offence which must be reported to police for any action to be taken."