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Saturday, March 20, 1999 Published at 16:53 GMT

Making a statement

Lord Healey: "The great thing is to get it over with"

The Budget statement is the highpoint of the year for Her Majesty's Treasury.

The attention of the media, the public and the City may be on the speech made by the chancellor, but the delivery is just the centrepiece of weeks of preparation.

The Conservative chancellor of the early 1980s, Nigel Lawson, described the Budget as fun.

In his autobiography, The View from No. 11, Lord Lawson wrote: "It seems to me no bad thing that for one day in the year the attention of the entire nation should be national economy and on the issues involved."

However, former Prime Minister Harold Macmillan described Budget day as "rather like a school speech day - a bit of a bore, but there it is".

Healey's 'lovely Budgets'

Denis Healey delivered 12 Budgets and mini-Budgets in his first three-and-a-half years as Labour chancellor in the 1970s.

In Lord Healey's opinion, little has changed about the Budget since then apart from its content.

He said: "The two that stand out were the ones that I had to deal with the problems created by our balance of payments, which led me to go to the IMF for a loan and in return I had to cut public spending quite heavily.

"As soon as I'd done that the economy turned round completely. The other lovely Budget was the one I did later in the same year in which I was able to give back a lot of the money I had taken away six months earlier."

Lord Healey recalls weeks of hard work preparing the actual statement which were intensified in the days immediately before and after its delivery.

[ image: Lord Lawson described the Budget as
Lord Lawson described the Budget as "fun"
He told BBC News Online: "The hard work of the Budget really in those days was the period between Christmas and Budget day, which was about the beginning of April or sometimes a little earlier.

"Then you were negotiating with everybody concerned to decide what increases in taxation you could make and get away with in Parliament and in the country in return for the spending cuts you'd agreed some months earlier."

Rough jumper and wellies

The media coverage in the run-up to the statement usually begins on the weekend before Budget day.

Last year, Chancellor Gordon Brown was pictured posing with his girlfriend Sarah Macaulay at a birthday party for the son of a top aide.

Lord Healey remembers reporters calling at his home for photographs of the normal life of a chancellor.

He said: "The public relations side begins on the Sunday when the television cameras come down to your home, in my case in the country, appearing to carry out a normal life, perhaps cutting the hedge or clearing the pool, wearing wellies and a rough sweater.

[ image: Gordon Brown has been photographed with Sarah Macaulay]
Gordon Brown has been photographed with Sarah Macaulay
"Then on the Monday morning you have a very busy time first of all explaining to the Cabinet what you're planning to do.

"The spending cuts are already known by the ministers concerned but, in theory, if the Cabinet was violently opposed to one of your proposals they could force you to make a change but it never happened in my case.

"On the Monday afternoon you have to go to Windsor to tell the Queen what you're planning to put in the Budget. She asks you the questions civil servants have suggested she might ask.

"Then you can chat about more pleasant things which interest both of you."

Shortening the speech

The speech itself was not typed out until the actual morning of the Budget.

He said: "On one occasion I discovered just as I was leaving I had left one of the pages on my table so I had to get back and just got it in time."

[ image: The Queen is visited by the chancellor]
The Queen is visited by the chancellor
It was Lord Healey who introduced the shortening of the speech, delivering one of the shortest on record at just less than 80 minutes.

The longest continuous Budget speech was delivered by William Gladstone in 1853. It lasted four hours and 45 minutes. A speech a year earlier by Benjamin Disraeli lasted five hours but included a break.

Disraeli also holds the record for the shortest Budget speech at 45 minutes in 1867. In recent years, Lord Lawson has given the shortest one, taking 59 minutes in 1987.

Lord Healey said: "The silly thing about the Budget was that when I started you couldn't afford to make any statements about tax until the markets had closed at six o'clock.

"So you had to speak to at least three hours until about 6.30 because you couldn't make any tax announcements before six o'clock.

[ image: Markets close early on Budget day]
Markets close early on Budget day
"Now the markets close earlier on Budget day.

"I persuaded them to do that when I was there, so you could speak for just as long as it took to announce your important decisions and I managed it in just over an hour in one occasion."

Once the Budget is delivered the chancellor is busy talking to organisations such as the CBI, TUC as well as preparing a speech for the evening news.

Lord Healey said "And then it goes on the next day because you have to talk to the people affected you haven't managed to see on the Tuesday afternoon.

"And you have to wait for the shadow chancellor, Geoffrey Howe it was in my time, to make his reply to the Budget. So really the whole thing takes you the best part of four days.

"On the whole the great thing was to get it over and to be able to relax on the Wednesday evening and think, well now I don't face this particular problem hopefully for another 12 months."

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