The presentation of the Budget is one of the great occasions in the parliamentary calendar. There is the photograph of the Chancellor with his red box, and Treasury ministers standing outside 11 Downing Street, and then his speech to a packed Commons, colleagues agog to hear about tax and spending decisions vital to the national economy.
Even in this difficult pandemic year, traditions have been maintained. Only this time the team photograph was on the Treasury stairs, like an Escher drawing, and the Commons was all but empty, due to social distancing.
But in many ways the Budget is only the start of the process. It falls to me as Financial Secretary to take the Finance Bill, which puts the Budget into legislation, through its many parliamentary stages in the House of Commons. And over the past few weeks I have been immersed in doing just that,
Taxation has always been at the centre of Parliament. Indeed the very institution of Parliament developed in and after the 13th century largely because successive Kings wanted to be able to afford to wage wars, for which they needed money.
Parliament was originally convened as the court or council by which taxation could be legitimately approved. And in return Parliament demanded scrutiny; and the right, jealously guarded over centuries, for the House of Commons as the elected Chamber to hold the government of the day to account for the money it raises.
Though at 374 pages this year's Finance Bill is far longer than its mediaeval counterparts, in principle it is little different: it ratifies hundreds of billions of pounds in taxation. But this year, it does much more. It extends our vital Covid pandemic support schemes, including the reduced rate for the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors, and the relief in Stamp Duty Land Tax.
It cracks down on tax avoidance and the promoters of tax avoidance, and it introduces a new Plastic Packaging Tax, a very important environmental measure to encourage greater use of recycled plastics.
So far we have had a day of debate at Second Reading, and two further days on the detail in the Committee of the Whole House. By the end we will have two more days in Committee, and then another full day of Report and Third Reading.
It is an arduous process, but one that has proven vital to our democracy, over nearly eight centuries.
Article first published in Hereford Times