The Pre-Budget Report
2. The Pre-Budget Report is one of the key elements
of the Government's system for managing the economy and the public
finances, as set out in the Code for Fiscal Stability published
in November 1998. It
is intended to "encourage debate on the proposals under consideration
for the Budget" and to be consultative in nature.
The document itself has grown steadily in size since 1997.
In addition, it is accompanied (like the Budget itself) by a range
of announcements about tax and other measures, and a large quantity
of consultation papers. It is clearly helpful to public debate
for as much relevant information as possible to be placed in the
public domain as soon as possible, and we therefore welcome the
attempts that the Treasury is making to increase openness. At
the same time, effective consultation is aided by simplicity and
it is therefore appropriate to sound a note of caution about continued
increases in the level of physical documentation.
3. In our Report on the 2002 PBR,
we recommended that "every year the Government should set
aside time, ideally on the floor of the House before the Christmas
recess or very shortly after, for a half or full day's debate
on the Pre-Budget Report". In their response, the Government
indicated that they would "consider the need for a debate
on the 2003 Pre-Budget Report, either in the Chamber or in some
other forum, nearer the time".
As at the time that this Report has been prepared, there is no
indication that there will be such a debate on this year's PBR.
We regret this omission, given that transparency and openness
demand that government financial statements like the PBR should
be subject to parliamentary scrutiny in the Chamber of the House
of Commons. We reiterate our recommendation that every year the
House should hold a half or full day's debate on the Pre-Budget
4. In last year's report, we also noted that the
new practice of announcing the planned recess dates at the beginning
of the annual parliamentary session should make it easier to announce
the date of the Budget longer in advance than had often been the
case. We observed that in 2002 the Chancellor had given almost
three months' notice of the Budget date. However, in 2003 only
just over one month's notice was given. In our Reports on the
2002 PBR and the 2003 Budget we recommended that there should
always be at least two months' notice.
In their response, the Government declined to give such a commitment,
indicating only that they would "announce the date of the
Budget at the earliest convenient opportunity".
We have received no acceptable explanation as to why the Treasury
will not agree to this modest recommendation. We can only repeat
our view that as much notice as possible for the Budget date is
desirable and we therefore urge the Government to regard the 2002
practiceof at least 2 months' advance noticeto be
at least a working target. Advance notice for the Pre-Budget Report
is also helpful. The announcement of the date for this year's
Pre-Budget report and statement was made during oral Question
Time on Thursday 13 November, less than one month before the statement.
We believe that the same arguments hold for advance notice for
the Pre-Budget Report as for the Budget.