REPORT FROM THE WORKSHOP ON PEACE TAX BILLS - Phil Rimmer
DENMARK: System allowing individuals to covenant part of their income to charity, in which the government also give the charity the income tax paid on the amount covenanted, is currently being used as a form of tax diversion. This is often referred to as Tax Deductible Charitable Giving and politicians in Canada and Belgium have claimed that this system achieves our objective for us. The United Kingdom opposes this view but believes that it does create a precedent for peace tax legislation, in that it allows income tax payers to decide how part of their tax is spent.
Danish campaigners believe that the board members of any Peace Tax Fund should be drawn from the type of groups eligible to receive funds from the fund.
CANADA: Their Bill continues to evolve. Much use has been made of E-Mail to liaise with all the groups lobbying for the Bill - this has proved to be both cheap and effective.
In order to maintain the sovereignty of Parliament, there will be no Peace Tax Fund. Rather, there will be a new line in the budget for re-directed war taxes from Conscientious Objectors. The money from this part of the budget could be used for any entirely peaceful purpose. The government would be responsible for spending the money and would report to Parliament on its use, as with other expenditure headings. The phrase Fiscal Conscription is used in order to try and avoid deliberate misrepresentation by the media and political opponents.
It is felt that politicians will often support recognition of human rights because it is the right thing to do, even when a majority of the public oppose such recognition. A supporting MP has provided access to the Library of Parliament for the purpose of research to remove technical faults from the Bill.
USA: Taxes re-directed into the Peace Tax Fund would no longer be deducted directly from the defence budget. The previous proposal would have led to an actual reduction in Pentagon expenditure. The Bill is intended primarily to cover federal income tax payments and the fund would be controlled by the Minister of Finance and a Board of Trustees.
The issue is now receiving support from the religious right, who now see the issue as one of religious freedom. Public hearings of conscientious objectors held all over the states were effective in highlighting the issue of conscience. Lobbyists have met with White House Presidential Aides to discuss the issue and there is a growing possibility of a further Congressional hearing.
BELGIUM: Registration as a conscientious objector to war taxes would be via the tax return form. The legislation is only intended to cover income tax and lays down no regulations or restrictions as to its effect on the finances of other government departments. The fund created would be under the control of the Minister of Finance and a Council of representatives from Parliament and NGO peace and development groups.
It is vital that we constantly explain the difference between belief and opinion. We must remain aware of items of military expenditure which do not appear under the defence budget heading. The issue of "NATO Review" published in January/February always contains lots of useful statistics on the defence expenditure of member countries.
UNITED KINGDOM: The Board of Trustees of the "Non-Military Security Fund" would be chosen by the Prime Minister and approved by, and accountable to, Parliament (standard practice in the UK). Registration under the Bill would be by signed statement to the tax authorities. The Bill outlines a wide range of non-military means of maintaining security which could be financed. The Bill would not reduce the Ministry of Defence budget, but it would guarantee that money in the fund could not be used as a substitute for existing government expenditure in areas eligible for money from the fund. It is intended that all taxes be covered so each registered individual would have re-directed into the fund the average amount of all taxes per voter paid to the Ministry of Defence.
GERMANY: This proposal only includes income tax. The Bill would allow taxpayers to choose one of two funds for the destination of part of their taxes: those wishing to fund the military would pay part of their taxes into a Military Fund controlled by the Minister of Defence; those stating that they have a conscientious objection to funding the military would pay part of their taxes into a Conversion Fund controlled by the Minister of Labour & Social Affairs.
NETHERLANDS: This Bill covers most direct taxes and does not aim to reduce the defence budget. The Minister of Defence would control the Peace Fund. It is envisaged that there would be an examination of the seriousness of someone seeking to register as a conscientious objector to war taxes.
A key problem currently being experienced in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany is that politicians do not see peace tax bills as being relevant at a time when armed forces are doing so much peace keeping work. Politicians are clearly having problems accepting that conscientious objection is valid regardless of the type of function the military are performing - or is the nature of many contemporary conflicts simply giving politicians a convenient excuse to dismiss us. The UK and the USA are not suffering from this problem.