questions from MPs

by Campaign ~ January 19th, 2011. Filed under: News.

conscience would like to thank everyone who has been writing to their MP about non-military security and the right of conscientious objectors to have their taxes spent on peace and not war. I would also like to thank everyone for sending us the responses they are getting from their MPs this information is very valuable to conscience.

We have noticed that some MPs are giving the same responses against our proposals and we wanted to equip our members and any interested person with some information that they can use as an effective rebuttal should they wish to respond.

If you have any questions about the campaign please do not hesitate to contact us.

Question: Would you also withdraw funding from the use of military resources for good and peaceful services?

In addition to campaigning for the right of conscientious objectors to have the part of their taxes currently spent on military security spent on non-military security, Conscience also campaigns for a progressive increase in the amount of money spent on non-military security and corresponding decrease in the amount spent on war and the preparations for war. Therefore, we acknowledge that change cannot happen overnight and the military do currently carry out functions that unfortunately cannot be carried out by any other body at present. Conscience sees a diminishing role for the military – as enough time and money has not yet been spent in non-military security. As the use of sustainable non-military security measures increase, the use of military will decrease and therefore also the role of the military as we see it today. In conclusion, we are not arguing that we should instantly withdraw funding from the good and peaceful services that the military currently carry out. We are asking for gradual change in the way we as a country maintain national security.

Question: How would any individual calculate what proportion of their tax was being used for defence purposes?

Government figures show how our taxes are spent. The MoD budget for 2009/10 was approximately £45 billion. The UK had an electorate of 44.4 million in 2009, all of whom pay taxes of one sort or another. Therefore, the average contribution to the military budget can be calculated by dividing the MoD budget by the number of voters – this equals £1013 per person for the 2009/10 tax year. Considering the complexities of the tax system – and schemes such as Gift Aid to facilitate charitable giving – our proposals would not prove too taxing for Inland Revenue officials. This is a red herring but also misses the point of our proposals. It will not be necessary to ensure the individual £10 notes from a conscientious objector do not go to the military. Simple calculations using the number of registered conscientious objectors, the average tax payment each voter makes to the military reveals how much of total tax revenue should be deposited in a fund for non-military security programmes.

Question: If the law is updated to include the right of conscientious objectors to have the part of their taxes currently spent on military security spent on non-military security instead then wouldn’t this open a floodgate of people wanting to withhold their taxes for various ethical reasons?

A common argument used against our proposal is that if conscientious objectors won the right to divert taxes away from military expenditure, a range of other groups and individuals would demand a similar right to divert their taxes away from paying for state education, new roads or the NHS, for example. Essentially, that the floodgates would open to others demanding similar rights. However, this floodgates argument does not stand up to serious scrutiny.

The peace tax case is different to others for a number of related reasons. The major difference between funding the military and the new road-building schemes, for example, is that the military intentionally kill and harm people as part of their role. No other area of government spending does so.

Secondly, the desire not to contribute to state education, for example, or not to contribute to road building via taxes, is a political objection, not one based on conscience. There are very few areas where the claim of conscience is recognised in law. First is conscientious objection to military service, the right we are trying to extend to cope with the changed nature of warfare. Second is the right of medical practitioners who have a conscientious objection to abortion being able to refuse to perform the operation. Third is the right of Sikhs being exempt from wearing motorcycle helmets as this would force them to remove their turbans. Before capital punishment was abolished in the UK one also had the right to refuse to perform executions.  Intentional killing holds because we are not talking about political objections but those driven by conscience that also have a legislative precedent (conscientious objection to military service was recognised by Parliament in 1916).

Thirdly, there is parliamentary precedent from the 1916 Military Service Act. This Act introduced military conscription for the majority but by establishing the right to conscientious objection also recognised the rights of a minority to not to be complicit in killing. When conscientious objection was recognised in 1916, a form of ‘alternative service’ was available to conscientious objectors e.g. working for an ambulance service. That choice of alternative service is not available to present day conscientious objectors, who are required to pay for the military regardless of matters of conscience. We are asking for a new form of alternative service: one that allows conscientious objectors to pay the military part of their taxes to a non-military fund and thus providing a means by which conscientious objectors can contribute to security and safety in good conscience.

Because the solution we propose provides for a conscientiously acceptable – and more effective and efficient – alternative (non-military security) it has no negative impact on the government’s job of providing security for the nation as a whole. Assuming we succeed with the update in the law, anyone aiming to use it as a precedent would have to follow a similar model i.e. they would have to provide a comparable alternative. Therefore, there would be no legal basis for withholding taxes or diverting them into an unrelated area. Furthermore, we are not aware of any groups campaigning on grounds of conscience for the right not to pay taxes for other government departments.

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