Sunday, 11 November 2007

REPRESENTATION WITHOUT TAXATION

Lord Ashcroft is a multi-millionaire, whose fortune is said to amount to some £800 millions. He is a major donor to the Conservative party (of which I am neither a member nor a supporter). He is said to reside in Belize. It is not clear whether he pays any UK income tax.

The Guardian of 9 November 2007 ran a front-page story on him, alleging that prior to the conferment of his life peerage pledges were made by the Conservative party that he would return to the UK and pay UK income tax. The Guardian quoted David Heath, Liberal-Democrat spokesperson on constitutional affairs, as declaring that “No one should take a place in the legislature of this country who doesn’t pay taxes in this country.”

Why not? There are plenty of people living in this country who don’t pay any taxes. Are they, for that reason, to be barred from sitting in either House of Parliament? And what about voting? You don’t have to pay taxes in order to exercise the right to vote. The linkage between voting and payment of taxes was broken when the Representation of the People Act was passed in 1918. Indeed, until 1918 you couldn’t vote if you received poor relief – the dole.

In some ways this particular 1918 reform was retrograde. It has meant, and means, that citizens without any wealth, and who pay no taxes, are able to influence the tax burden on those who do have wealth, and are able to have a say in the manner in which these tax revenues (to which they have contributed nothing) are spent.

Be that as it may, the 1918 reform has stood the test of time. You can vote in local elections – and sit on your local council - whether or not you pay council tax, and in national elections – and be elected to the Commons - whether or not you pay income tax. So why, simply because you are a non-taxpayer, should you not be able to sit in the House of Lords?

I hold no particular brief for Lord Ashcroft. I do believe that he has rights, and is entitled to exercise them.

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