Weekend voting urged on Labour

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The Independent Online
A CONTINENTAL-style general election system, with people voting at weekends rather than on Thursdays, has been recommended by a key Labour committee looking at electoral reform.

Professor Raymond Plant's commission has made 37 recommendations which, if implemented, would amount to the most radical reform in voting arrangements in recent memory. They form part of a report which calls for an end to the first-past-the- post system for elections to the House of Commons and the European Parliament, and an elected upper house.

The commission also recommends:

Polling to be moved to Saturdays from 8am to 6pm and Sundays from 8am to 1pm.

Electors to be allowed to vote up to eight days before a general election day. At least one polling station would be open for this in each constituency.

A limit on the national spending of political parties.

State funding, auditing and accounting of political parties.

A new commission, independent of the Home Office, to supervise elections.

Four-year fixed term Parliament.

The Plant Commission also proposes making it impossible for candidates to use the names of the major political parties - such as 'Independent Labour' - if they are not seeking to represent the party.

The commission wants to increase the turn-out in elections, and would make it easier to apply for absent voting by proxy or post. People in hospital, for example, would become eligible.

These measures are thought to be acceptable to the Labour leader, John Smith, who is said to be keen to keep discussion open.

But Mr Smith, who is cautious about proportional representation, is unlikely to give unequivocal backing to the Plant recommendation of a supplementary vote electoral system.

Mr Smith is said to be open to the idea of offering a referendum on electoral reform.

The Government still faces a Commons crunch over the Maastricht Bill, Labour leaders said yesterday. The Opposition believes that the Speaker of the Commons, Betty Boothroyd, will permit a vote on Amendment 27, which deals with the controversial Social Chapter, at the report stage. Labour MPs erupted in fury last week when the Chairman of Ways and Means, Michael Morris, refused to allow a division on the amendment during the committee stage.