I rise to speak up for the Budget. It is a great pleasure to follow Sandy Martin, who identified a number of important issues, which illustrates how there is always more to be done. There are some things in the Budget about which I am really enthusiastic, and there are some things about which I would like to ask Ministers questions.
I very warmly welcome the freeze on fuel duty. Private car use is not a “nice to have” in rural Stirlingshire; it is an absolute necessity. Will my hon. Friend the Minister look again at the extent of the rural fuel rebate scheme? There are some glaring anomalies in my part of the world, so I urge him to take another look at that.
I also warmly welcome the freeze on beer duty and spirits duty. That may sound strange coming from a teetotaller, but it is good news for Stirling, where there are more than 100 pubs and thousands of people are employed in the leisure sector. It is also good news for Stirling’s distillers and brewers.
I welcome the announcement of funding for universal credit, about which I have spoken several times in the House. Helping people to get into work and making sure that work always pays is something that we must get right. I also welcome the commitment to spend more on our defences. The Government recognise the changing landscape of threat to which we must respond as a nation.
I commend the Chancellor and his team for taking seriously the plight of the high street. As a Conservative I find it a strange sensation to welcome the very idea of a new tax, but the introduction of an online tax for internet giants will do something to level the playing field in respect of the massive online retailers and high street retailers. It is an essential and pragmatic approach that I hope will be part of an overarching modernisation of the business-tax regime.
I have mentioned before in the House King Street, one of Stirling’s main shopping thoroughfares that has many retail and leisure properties. Some of them, although not many, receive rates relief through the small business bonus scheme. However, they would all benefit from the one-third reduction in rates that we will see in England. That would save restaurants such as Monterey Jack’s or shops such as Contempo across the other side of King Street about £3,000 a year. Those are real numbers that could be to the advantage of retailers in Stirling, if the Scottish Government adopted the policy for England. It is time to take action on the high street. We need vision and imagination for the future of our high streets. I see so much going on in the Budget that Scotland will not benefit from unless the Scottish Government show some of the invention and imagination that we heard from the Chancellor on Monday.
I have three questions that I hope the Minister will consider. I welcome the £200 million for the British Business Bank and the setting up of a British Business Bank team in Scotland, but I remain concerned that we need to do more to create a bigger stream of high-quality patient capital. The British Business Bank is a good vehicle, but it needs a broader remit. There is yet more to be done to replace the European Investment Bank as a source of patient capital. What is the Minister’s assessment of the ready availability and quality of patient capital in our economy?
It is right that we have an industrial strategy for the whole UK and an industrial strategy challenge fund for the whole UK, but I seek the Minister’s assurance that the UK shared prosperity fund will be a UK-wide fund, unlike the national productivity investment fund. My heart skipped a beat when I heard about the £200 million to be invested in rural broadband—full fibre broadband; the real McCoy—but then I learned that it was to be funded by the national productivity investment fund, which means that Scotland will not get anything. I deeply regret that. I am looking for assurances from the Treasury Bench about what will be done to get rural broadband planted in rural Scotland. Currently, the Scottish Government are doing next to nothing. They are frustrating the work of connecting rural Scotland.
I will take this opportunity to mention a side issue, which is the misleading advertising that our consumers are subject to on “superfast fibre” broadband, when it is not fibre at all—it is copper. We should insist on these companies telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth to our consumers.