This paper discusses the way that Parliament scrutinises the Government's proposals for taxation, set out in the annual Budget statement. It looks at how this procedure may be affected by the timing of a General Election, and the decision in 2017 to move the Budget from the Spring to the Autumn. It also provides some suggestions for further reading.

Download the full report

Each year the Chancellor of the Exchequer presents the Budget, which contains all the tax measures for the year ahead. Traditionally the Budget has been in March, prior to the start of the tax year on 6 April.  The statutory provisions to give effect to these tax measures are set out in a single Bill: the annual Finance Bill.  This paper sets out the way that Parliament debates the Budget and scrutinises the Finance Bill, and how this procedure can be affected by the timing of a General Election.

In 2011 the Coalition Government reformed the Parliamentary timetable, moving the Queen’s Speech and the beginning of the annual session to the spring.  In turn provision was made to allow for the Finance Bill to be carried over from one session to the next to ensure that this did not substantially reduce the amount of time available for its scrutiny.

It has been the practice in recent years for Chancellors to make tax announcements twice a year, using the Pre-Budget Report or Autumn Statement as a second fiscal event. In his Autumn Statement in November 2016 the then Chancellor Philip Hammond announced that from autumn 2017 the Government would present a single autumn Budget, to allow for greater Parliamentary scrutiny of Budget measures ahead of their implementation. Mr Hammond presented the last Spring Budget on 8 March 2017, and the first Autumn Budget on 22 November 2017.

Following this, the Government published details of a revised annual Budget timetable for policy announcements, consultations, and the passage of legislation. As this explained, “under the new cycle of a single fiscal event each year, most tax policies will continue to be developed through an established cycle, whereby a policy announcement at the Budget is followed by a policy consultation, the publishing of draft legislation, and proposals are finally legislated in the next Finance Bill. However, to reflect the move of the Budget from spring to autumn, the timing of this cycle will change. Policies will be announced at the Budget in the autumn, and consulted on in winter and over the spring. Draft legislation will then be published in July for technical consultation ahead of the Finance Bill being introduced in the autumn.”[1] On 11 July 2019 the Government published draft provisions to be included in the next Finance Bill.[2] Following its postponement due to the timing of the 2019 General Election, the Budget was presented on 11 March 2020,[3] and the Library has two papers discussing the context to the Budget and giving a summary of its contents.[4]

Although the Chancellor may often mention public spending in his Budget speech, the procedure by which Parliament scrutinises and approves of government expenditure is quite separate and is not discussed in this paper.[5] Other Library papers provide a checklist of Budgets since 2010 with a list of recommended reading on tax policy,[6] and a longer historical list of Budgets and Finance Bills since 1968.[7]

Notes : 

[1]    HM Treasury, The new Budget timetable and the tax policy making process, 6 December 2017

[2]    Written Statement HCWS1713, 11 July 2018; HM Treasury press notice, Finance Bill 2019-20: government publishes draft legislation, 11 July 2019. This draft legislation is on Gov.uk

[3]    HC Deb 11 March 2020 cc278-293

[4]    Spring Budget 2020: Background briefing, CBP8842, 5 March 2020; Spring Budget 2020: a summary, CBP8849, 11 March 2020.

[5]    For more details see, Scrutiny Unit, Financial scrutiny uncovered, 3rd ed. July 2017; Public Spending: a brief introduction, Commons Briefing paper CBP8046, 3 September 2019.

[6]    Key documents: taxation, CBP4680, 12 March 2020

[7]    Budget debates and finance bills since 1968, CBP2271, 29 October 2018

  • Commons Research Briefing SN00813
  • Author: Antony Seely
  • Topics: Elections, Tax

Download the full report