The Budget and Parliament

The Budget and Parliament

Each year the Chancellor of the Exchequer makes the Budget statement to the House of Commons outlining the state of the economy and the Government’s proposals for changes to taxation. The House of Commons debates the Budget and scrutinises the subsequent Finance Bill, which enacts the Chancellor’s proposals.

The Budget, or Financial Statement, is a statement made to the House of Commons by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the nation’s finances and the Government’s proposals for changes to taxation. The Budget also includes forecasts for the economy by the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR).

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, delivered the 2014 Budget statement on Wednesday 19 March 2014.

The Chancellor announced in an evidence session before the Treasury Select Committee that the next Budget will be held on Wednesday 18 March 2015.

The Budget usually takes place in March or April of each year.

The Budget and the Finance Bill are annual events, in part because income tax and corporation tax are annual taxes which have to be renewed by legislation each year. By contrast, most UK taxes including all indirect taxes, petroleum revenue tax and taxes on capital are ‘permanent’.

In election years, after a change of Government, a Budget will usually be introduced by the incoming Chancellor of the Exchequer, even if the outgoing Chancellor has already delivered one.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer delivers his Budget statement to Members of Parliament in the House of Commons. The first part of the statement typically begins with a review of the nation's finances and the economic situation. The statement then moves on to proposals for taxation.

Provisional collection of taxes

Some measures, such as any changes to the rates of duty on alcohol and tobacco, come into effect on Budget day or soon after.

The power to make these changes on an interim basis, before the Finance Bill is passed, comes from the House of Commons approving a motion for the provisional collection of these taxes. After the Chancellor finishes his speech but before the Leader of the Opposition responds, the Chairman of Ways and Means puts a single motion to the Commons asking for agreement to these changes.

This is called the 'Provisional Collection of Taxes' and is by convention agreed to by the House, meaning that the changes can come into effect at 6pm on Budget day.

Debates on the Budget Resolutions

Traditionally the Leader of the Opposition, currently Labour Leader Edward Miliband, rather than the Shadow Chancellor replies to the Budget Speech.

The Budget is usually followed by four days of debate on the Budget Resolutions, these are the tax measures announced in the Budget. Each day of debate covers a different policy area such as health, education and defence. The Shadow Chancellor makes his response the day after the Budget statement during the Budget debates.

Budget Resolutions can come into effect immediately if the House of Commons agrees to them at the end of the four days of debate but they require the Finance Bill to give them permanent legal effect. 

The Finance Bill

A new Finance Bill is presented to Parliament each year, it enacts the proposals for taxation made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget statement and brings them into law.

Once the House of Commons has agreed the Budget Resolutions, the Finance Bill starts its passage through Parliament in the same way as any other bill.

The House of Lords has a limited role in respect of Finance Bills. The House of Commons has the sole right to initiate and amend bills whose main purpose is to levy taxes or authorise expenditure.

The House of Lords will have a second reading debate on the Finance Bill but they will not consider the Bill clause by clause and will not amend the Bill.

Scrutiny of the Budget by Committees

The Commons Treasury Select Committee is a cross-party committee of MPs whose role is to scrutinise the work of the Treasury.

Following each Budget statement the Treasury Committee conducts an inquiry into the Government’s proposals, gathering evidence from expert witnesses and publishing a report with its conclusions and recommendations.

The Government then produces a report in response to the Committee’s findings, often with a contribution from the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR).

The House of Lords Economic Affairs Sub-Committee examines selected aspects of the Finance Bill, including tax administration, clarification and simplification.

The Autumn Statement

The Chancellor of the Exchequer makes an Autumn Statement each year in November or December.

The Autumn Statement provides an update on the government's plans for the economy based on the latest forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR). The OBR forecasts are published twice each year, at the Budget and at the Autumn Statement.

The 2014 Autumn Statement was delivered on Wednesday 3 December.

Traditionally, the Chairman of Ways and Means (Deputy Speaker) chairs the Budget debates rather than the Speaker; in this video on Parliament's role in the Budget process, current Chairman Lindsay Hoyle MP, explains why.

The House of Commons Library produces briefing papers to inform MPs and their staff of key issues. The papers contain factual information and analysis on each subject, and aim to be politically impartial. These papers are available to the public on the Parliament website.

The Library has published a briefing paper on the Budget 2014.

The red Budget box

The word Budget comes from an old French word ‘bougette’ meaning little bag. It was customary to bring the statement on financial policy to the House of Commons in a leather bag. The modern equivalent of the bag is the red despatch box or Budget box.

The distinctive red Budget Box which Chancellors used to carry their speech from 11 Downing Street to the House of Commons was in use for over one hundred consecutive years.  The wooden box was hand-crafted for William Ewart Gladstone around 1860. It was lined with black satin and covered with scarlet leather.

Lord Callaghan was the first Chancellor to break with tradition in 1965 when he used a new box.  In July 1997 Gordon Brown became the second Chancellor to use a new box for the Budget.

George Osborne used the Gladstone Box for his first Budget in 2010 but used a new box in 2011.

Traditionally the Chancellor is photographed on Budget day on the steps of 11 Downing Street, the official residence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, holding up the Budget Box.

Despatch box drinks

By tradition, the Chancellor, unlike Ministers at the despatch box at any other time of the year, may drink alcohol during the Budget Speech if they wish.

George Osborne has chosen to drink mineral water, as did the previous Chancellor Alistair Darling.

Other Chancellors have chosen mineral water (Gordon Brown), whisky (Kenneth Clarke), spritzer (Nigel Lawson), gin and tonic (Geoffrey Howe), brandy and water (Benjamin Disraeli) and sherry and beaten egg (William Ewart Gladstone).

Is the Budget always delivered on the same day of the week?

The Budget often takes place on a Wednesday after Prime Ministers' Questions but it can take place on any day of the week. 

Longest and shortest Budget Speeches

The longest continuous Budget speech was by William Gladstone on 18 April 1853, lasting 4 hours and 45 minutes. Benjamin Disraeli's speech in 1852 lasted 5 hours but included a break.

Benjamin Disraeli’s 1867 Budget Speech lasted only 45 Minutes.

With twelve Budget speeches, William Ewart Gladstone holds the record for delivering more Budget speeches than any other Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Image: PA/Clara Molden

Keep up to date on The Budget

Latest news from the Commons and Lords on the scrutiny of the Budget and Autumn Statements and the annual Finance Bill.

External links

More information about the contents of the 2014 Budget is available on the HM Treasury website.

The Office for Budget Responsibility was created in 2010 to provide independent and authoritative analysis of the UK’s public finances.

The Budget - For schools

A guide to understanding the Budget, for 11-18 year olds