Budget on 18 March curbs Finance Bill debate

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The first of two finance acts planned for 2015 could get a week or less time for debate in parliament thanks to the general election date fixed for Thursday 7 May, notes John Stokdyk.

Just before Christmas, the Chancellor confirmed to the Treasury select committee that he would present his annual budget on 18 March. Experts had expected an earlier date to give parliament time to debate the issues ahead of the election campaign, but George Osborne stuck to the pattern  seen in the previous few years.

The 7 May polling date (the first Thursday in May in the fifth year after the previous general election) has been set in stone by the Fixed-term Parliaments Act introduced in 2011. The subsequent Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013 brought back the date when parliament is dissolved to 25 working days before polling day, meaning that with Easter and the early May bank holidays in the mix this will happen on 30 March, the eighth working day after the Budget is presented.

Many draft clauses for the first Finance Bill 2015 were published in December, and notes on the planned direct debt recovery legislation made it clear that the controversial measure would be brought forward in a second Finance Bill planned for after the election.

So while the profession will have had a chance to assess and respond to most of the draft clauses for Finance Bill 2015 Mark I over the course of several months - as was the government’s intention in 2010 when it announced a new approach to tax policy development - MPs won’t enjoy that luxury once the bill itself is published.

After recovering from his Candy Crush embarrassment, Tory MP and accountant Nigel Mills raised this point in a parliamentary discussion on the proposed diverted profits tax.

“It is not often we get whole new taxes in this country, and I thought we should mark this one with a bit of parliamentary scrutiny, because I fear it will sneak through in the pre-election wrap-up Finance Bill and will not get much debate in Committee,” he told a debate in Westminster Hall last week.

It would be helpful, he added, for parliament to have a bit of a chance to work out the government’s intentions and exactly where they intend this tax to go. There ought to be a lot more similar questions about other tax measures, but very little time in which to do it thanks to the Chancellor’s Budget timetable.

This means George Osborne is likely to dish up a lot of political rhetoric in his Budget speech on 18 March, with less of the substantive detail as associated paperwork that tends to attract accountants’ interest at this time of year. Unfortunately, whenever I make predictions like this they tend to blow up in my face and you can never tell what last-minute surprises civil servants and Chancellors will spring on an unsuspecting electorate.

And if he does disappoint the profession in March, there will always be the second Finance Bill to look forward to during the summer. Either way, AccountingWEB and its team of analysts are already clearing the tables to document the legislation that will have an impact on small businesses and their advisers in the months to come.

If you are putting dates in your diary for the year ahead, Tolley has published a 2015 tax calendar on AccountingWEB that pulls key dates for practitioners and their clients in the year ahead. We’ve been referring to it regularly since we got back to work and have found it to be very useful - especially with the extra complications caused by the election.

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