HC Deb 24 June 1999 vol 333 cc1278-9
6. Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

What policy is adopted by his Department in respect of taxpayers who do not wish to pay certain elements of taxation on grounds of conscience. [87061]

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Alan Milburn)

There are no special arrangements for taxpayers to withhold tax on grounds of conscience.

Mr. Corbyn

Could the Minister consider whether it would be right to introduce such a measure? The Italian Parliament has draft legislation before it that would allow Italian taxpayers to divert a proportion of their tax from the armed services to peace building, and there are three relevant petitions before this House. Given the huge rebuilding costs that will fall to this country and others in Kosovo and elsewhere where there has been conflict, perhaps we should have a peace-building fund that could invest in conflict resolution, reconstruction and trying to prevent terrible wars and civilian conflicts.

British taxpayers have a right of conscience not to participate in the armed forces in time of conscription and should have a similar right in time of peace to ensure that part of their tax goes to peace, not war.

Mr. Milburn

We will deal with the costs of reconstruction in Kosovo in due course. Although I understand my hon. Friend's deeply held convictions on the issue—his view is shared by others in this House and elsewhere—the Government have a duty and obligation to make proper provision for our country's defences. That is precisely what we are committed to doing. I say in all candour that his proposal would undermine our ability to do that, and that is why the Government will not contemplate it.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

Is not the element of our taxes that taxpayers least like paying the net contribution to the European Union, over which they have no democratic control and which goes to such causes as the subsidy for tobacco growing and the misapplication of funds, waste and fraud?

Mr. Milburn

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman for two reasons: first, on the most imaginative bid for a place on the Front Bench so far, and secondly, for acting as a continual reminder to us that the Conservative party has been become a genuine one-issue party.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

As my hon. Friend said that he would come to a question on Kosovo in due course, would he care to take the opportunity of answering Question 29?

Madam Speaker

But not yet!