The Government is facing a human rights inquiry into alleged electoral fraud in the UK, which threatens to turn Britain into a "banana republic".

The investigation, which follows allegations of voting irregularities in Birmingham, Coventry, London and Blackburn, has been launched by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the Strasbourg-based human rights watchdog.

A Resolution signed by 18 Assembly members - national politicians from the Council's 46 member countries - cites "a growing body of evidence that widespread absent vote fraud is taking place in the United Kingdom".

The UK Electoral Commission warned of possible abuses and urged tighter security after postal and proxy voting on demand was introduced in 2001.

And in 2005 a judge hearing a case of about alleged postal voting fiddles in Birmingham said the evidence of electoral fraud "would disgrace a banana republic".

Now the system is under the human rights spotlight thanks to a motion for a Resolution whose signatories include Tory MPs David Wilshire, Christopher Chope, Christopher Fraser, Humfrey Malins and Nigel Evans, Liberal Democrat Nick Harvey and Tory peers Gloria Hooper and Jill Knight.

Other signatories include four Russian and two Polish MPs. The move was backed on Monday by the Assembly's Monitoring Committee, which appointed a former German Justice Minister and a Polish Senator to look into allegations of irregularities involving postal and absentee

votes. The pair will now visit London - and other parts of the UK if necessary - before reporting back to the Committee on their findings.

The Human Rights Convention, which the Council of Europe upholds, obliges its 46 member states to "hold free elections ... which will ensure the free expression of the opinion of the people in the choice of the legislature".

If the two investigators report back that official monitoring of UK voting procedures is considered necessary, the UK will join ten of the 46 Council members which are already subject to "monitoring".

They are Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Moldova, Monaco, Russia, Serbia and Ukraine.

A request to open a monitoring procedure for Italy, in connection with the state of its media control, is also currently being evaluated by the Council. ..SUPL: