Our History

Stanley Keeble

Conscience was founded in 1979 as the “Peace Tax Campaign” by Stanley Keeble. It was his vision and energy which sustained the campaign through much of its early years. As the campaign grew, others joined Stan and together they built up the campaign. Stan continued to edit the newsletter until 1982 and, though he stepped down from the committee in 1985, he remained actively involved until his death in 1996.

The first chairman, Gerald Drewett, served from 1980 until 1986 and later returned to the Executive Committee to serve as Treasurer from 2001 to 2002.

From the start, the “Peace Tax Campaign” involved both those who wanted to stay within the law while campaigning to change it, and those who felt driven to follow their conscience, even if that meant breaking the law. These different approaches have usually proved to be complementary. Indeed, when Jenny Aste attempted to divert her war taxes in 1981, her correspondence with Alex Lyon MP lead to his putting an amendment to the finance bill – the campaign’s first parliamentary activity.

Harold Holloway was a campaigner with Conscience and one of the first people to try diverting their tax to the Overseas Development Administration as a way of ensuring that he did not pay for the MoD.

The old Conscience logo

By 1983 the campaign had more than 50 local co-ordinators, over 3,000 supporters. In the same year, the newsletter “Tax Direction Now”, which co-ordinated and cared for tax diverters, was set up. Also in this year Plaid Cymru put Peace Tax legislation in its election manifesto – The Green Party later followed suit.

The campaign put forward its third Early Day Motion in 1984 and made clear its demand for a “peacebuilding fund which will promote security in a non-military manner.”

 

1987 was a time of change as the campaign decided to become a formal membership organisation. The previous year saw the first International Conference on War Tax Resistance and Peace Tax Campaigns in Germany. Today, there are campaigns all across the world, from Canada to Colombia, the US to the Ukraine; International Peace Tax Campaigns

In 1990, the campaign changed its name to “Conscience: The Peace Tax Campaign”.

Conscience’s second Parliamentary Bill in 1994 tried to divert military taxes to a peacebuilding fund for the study of conflict. It also aimed to convert the arms industry to non-military production, and to support democratic structures and human rights in areas of potential conflict.  Conscience and Peace Tax International (CPTI) was also formed to raise the issue globally, including at the UN, where it now has consultative status.

In 2004, Conscience was a co-founder of the Peace and Security Liaison Group (PSLG), which brought together NGOs engaged in peace and security. The PSLG worked to establish mechanisms for policy dialogue on security-related topics between NGOs and the British government that was of practical benefit to both parties. It sought to engage government officials, academics, think tanks and NGOs in discussions that looked beyond the government’s headline policies on promoting peace and delivering security. It aimed to deliver a more consistent approach to the formulation and implementation of policies which promote peace and security. The PSLG roundtable meetings finished in 2010.

The Peace Tax Seven were a group of individual UK citizens whose consciences led them to withhold tax until the government respected their right to not be complicit in deliberate killing.  In 2004 they started the process of seeking a judicial review.  They fought for the legal recognition of freedom of conscience as a basic human right to be realised in UK tax policy. You can read more about the story of the Peace Tax Seven here: Peace Tax Seven (Judicial Review)   Robin Brookes, a member of Conscience since the mid 1980’s and member of our current Conscience Executive Committee, was one of the Peace Tax Seven.

In 2006 Conscience launched a second website: www.PeacePays.org. This website provided a tool to support the idea of non-military security. It provides information on the benefits of non-military security and gives examples of it in action. The website is also host to our “Peace for Pounds” quiz which highlights the vast cost and ineffectiveness of military security.  This creation of the Peace Pays website acted as something of a turning point for Conscience, and the organisation soon moved towards greater advocacy for non-military security.

In 2009, it was time for another name change, with the organisation’s full name becoming Conscience: Taxes For Peace Not War, to reflect its aim to bring about a situation where national security is ensured using non-military rather than military means.

In 2016 Conscience launched the Taxes for Peace Bill in parliament.  It called for individuals to have the right to opt for the military part of our taxes to go to peaceful purposes instead.  Taxes for Peace Bill 2016

In 2018 Conscience launched its report, ‘The Minister for Peace and Disarmament: An Assessment’, in parliament.  The report was written by Dr Tim Street: Minister for Peace and Disarmament

In 2019 Conscience hosted and organised the 15th International Conference on War Tax Resistance and Peace Tax Campaigns, in Edinburgh.  Full details, including a video diary can be found here: International Conference 2019

Today, Conscience continues to work to create a world where taxes are used to nurture peace, not pay for war.  We campaign for a progressive increase in the amount of UK tax spent on peacebuilding, and a corresponding decrease in the amount spent on war and preparation for war. We also still campaign for the legal right of those with a conscientious objection to war to have the entire military part of their taxes spent on peacebuilding.

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