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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]

Over the last two years this timetable has been affected by the timing of the 2019 General Election and the Covid-19 pandemic. In the first case the 2019 Budget, planned for 6 November, was deferred to 11 March 2020.[2] In the second case, the Chancellor’s presentation of three economic statements over 2020, resulted in the Autumn Budget being postponed to 3 March 2021.[3] The Library has two papers discussing the context to the 2021 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]     HC Deb 11 March 2020 cc278-293

[3]     HC Deb 3 March 2021 cc251-262

[4]     Spring Budget 2021: Background briefing, CBP9136, 25 February 2021; Spring Budget 2021: a summary, CBP9154, 3 March 2021.

[5]     For more details see, Scrutiny Unit, Financial scrutiny uncovered, 3rd ed. July 2017; Public Spending: a brief introduction, Commons Briefing paper CBP8046, 16 October 2020.

[6]     Key documents: taxation, CBP4680, 4 March 2021

[7]     Budget debates and finance bills since 1968, CBP2271, 5 June 2020


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