Peace Tax Bills in Seven Countries

by Erik Th. Hummels, 1997

4. The United Kingdom

For the comparison with the Dutch bill I will use the bill which is introduced in the House of Commons in 1986 d.d. March 26 1986.[1]

The bill is a so called Ten Minute Rule Bill introduced by MP Dennis Canavan.

The name of the bill is: Bill to allow people to withhold that portion of their tax which is at present spent on arms and related purposes, and to facilitate the payment by them of sums to be withheld to peaceful non-governmental purposes.

According to section 7 of the bill, the bill can be cited as the Peace Tax Act 1986.

In the preamble is stated:

Whereas Her Majesty's Government, along with the governments of some other countries are now participating in an escalating arms race, including a nuclear arms race, which diminishes the security of the people of the United Kingdom and threatens the very existence of the entire human race and whereas some taxpayers have strong conscientious objections to being conscripted into the financing of such an evil war machine (...).

According to section 1 a Peace Fund is established, according to section 2 paragraph 1 the task of this fund will be the promotion of national and international security by non-military means. The Peace Fund can also work for the furtherance of international understanding, mediation and reconciliation, research to the causes and solution of conflicts, research and development with regard to conversion from military production to non-military production, aid in case of famine and development.

Section 2 paragraph 2 prescribes that the means of the fund will not be used as a substitution of existing and intended government expenditure with respect to subjects which are capable of being spent from the fund in itself.

The Peace Tax Fund will be governed by a Board of Trustees, existing of at least 5 and at most 9 members. The members will be appointed by the Prime Minister. The appointment must first go through consultation within the National Peace Council, the United Nations Association and the British Council of Churches. The appointments have to be approved by the House of Commons. The maximum period of office for a member of the Board will be six years. The Board has to report each year to the Parliament, also with regard to the financial management.

Section 5 prescribes that any person on the electoral register for parliamentary elections in the United Kingdom who has conscientious objections to the payment of taxes with regard to the total military expenditure with regard to certain categories of military expenditure, can be registered as a peace tax payer by signing a declaration and sending that declaration to the Minister of Finance. The minister will publish the names and addresses of the peace tax payers each year.

According to section 4 every taxpayer can make a payment in each financial year to the Peace Tax Fund. This amount will be equivalent to the amount everybody has to pay for Defence on average. This average-amount is the amount of the fraction with regard to which the Defence budget is the numerator and the total of persons on the aforementioned electoral register is the denominator.

Section 6 of the bill prescribes that every person who has made the payment to the Peace Tax Fund may deduct the corresponding amount from every tax debt he has.

MP Canavan states in the explanatory statement[2] that his bill proposes the establishment of a peace fund, that individuals would have the right to assign part of their tax to peace-building projects financed through the peace fund. He mentions further that he does not propose any new tax or any net increase or decrease in taxation.

Contrary to section 4, in which is prescribed that the taxpayer will make a payment to the Peace Tax Fund, MP Canavan states in the explanatory statement in the House of Commons that, if a person chooses to register his or her conscientious objections, the Treasury would make an appropriate payment for that person into a peace fund.

MP Canavan mentions further that under his proposals the normal payment would be the average individual contribution to the defence budget, that the total defence budget is about 18 billion pounds per year and that the electorate is about 40 million persons.

He considers:

If we divide the first figure by the second, we get an amount of 450 pounds per annum. That is how much the average person contributes to the budget of the Ministry of Defence. Under my proposals, therefore, an individual would have the right to demand that the Treasury paid up to 450 pounds per annum into the Peace Fund rather than to the MOD budget.

MP Canavan argues that some conservative MPs may say:

Wait a minute; this might create a dangerous precedent. It would open the doors for all sorts of people who object to various items of government expenditure, and would encourage them to withhold their taxes.

MP Canavan considers that it would be ironic if a party which supposedly believes in the freedom of the individual were to deny the freedom of an individual in this case.

MP Canavan is of the opinion that the bill creates no precedent, that it simply follows the precedent which was enacted in the 1916 legislation, when Parliament gave statutory recognition to those who have conscientious objections to military service, that if it is morally wrong to kill people, it is also morally wrong to pay other people to do the killing or to pay for the weapons which kill.

He is of the opinion that the horrific, indiscriminate nature of modern warfare, reinforces the conscientious objections of those who feel that the taxation system conscripts them into paying for the most destructive and evil war machine in which the United Kingdom has ever been involved.

He considers further that many people have strong moral objections to participating in such a crime against humanity, that the bill would give them the right to transfer some resources from warmongering to peace building, that the bill is a humane and sensible extension of the right of conscience.

The bill is not discussed in parliament further.[3]

On January 19 1994 MP Neil Gerrard has tried to introduce a new Peace Tax Bill in the House of Commons. The bill could be cited as the Conscientious Objection to Taxation for Military Purposes Bill. According to the proposal the military part of the taxes which the conscientious objector has to pay, would be transferred by the tax office to a fund for nonmilitary security, the Non-Military Security Fund. The direction of the fund would be the same as regulated in the former proposal. Also the task of the fund would be the same, only instead of famine relief and development aid additional tasks are incorporated community based work to develop and/or maintain democratic structures and human rights in areas of potential conflicts.

The attempt of MP Gerrard was without success, the proposal did not reach the stage of wording.[4]

In the bill of 1986 the amount of the payment to the Peace Tax Fund is related to what the average person contributes to the budget of the Defence Department. The problem with this approach is that nobody is an average person, so a lot of people will pay too much and a lot of people will pay not enough to the Peace Tax Fund. Especially for the last group perhaps the bill will not give sufficient provision for their conscientious objections.


  • [1] Bill 124, Ordered by the House of Commons to be Printed, 26 March 1986, see also Hansard page 949 and page 950 26 March 1986.
  • [2] See page 949 of Hansard 26 March 1986.
  • [3] See Christopher S.Hanna, Conscientious Objection to Paying Tax for Military Weapons, Aberdeen, UK, February 1992, page 83: Due to the nature of Ten Minute Rule Bills, it went no further than an unopposed first reading, but it did result in some publicity.
  • [4] Source: Gerald Drewett, Clerk of the European Quaker Network on the Peace Tax Concern, January 3 1996 in connection with the Newsletter ‘Conscience’ of the Peace Tax Campaign March 1994.

Copyright and responsibility Erik Th. Hummels 1997

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