Backbench Business

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:17 pm on 15 June 2023.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Marion Fellows Marion Fellows Scottish National Party, Motherwell and Wishaw 3:17, 15 June 2023

It is a real pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Sharma, and as they say, “Follow that!” The previous contribution was a passionate and informed speech by someone who really understands the difficulties that the tax on audiobooks represents to some people. Sir Mike Penning, whom I congratulate on securing the debate, might not be legally qualified, as he said, but he certainly knows what he is talking about. I followed his argument carefully, and I love the idea of him ticking something off his bucket list. Any kind of persuasion that can be used to get rid of the tax is well worth using.

One of the reasons why I enjoy Westminster Hall debates is that they tend to be less contentious. They tend to be a meeting of minds, with people who are interested coming together to try to solve a common problem, which is not something that too many of our constituents see too often.

I also want to thank a number of organisations, especially the RNIB. In my time in this place, I have also been involved in the Axe the Reading Tax campaign, which led to the abolition of the tax on e-books. It is an aberration—an unintended consequence—that there is still a tax on audiobooks. I love audiobooks. I am a voracious reader—not of anything mind-blowingly interesting, I must say, but it is a great way to relax—and I know that many other people, especially those with visual impairment, dyslexia or other conditions, get great joy out of losing themselves in a good book for a few hours on an afternoon like today. There is nothing nicer.

Audiobooks benefit younger people, including people studying. I have to confess—I may have to ask Hansard not to record this, although I know it will—that I cannot read Dickens. I can read lots of older authors who are considered fantastic—I love Hardy—but I cannot read Dickens. I was required to read a Dickens novel for an Open University course I was doing, and I thought, “I can’t do that,” but an audiobook was my answer. I love listening to someone reading Dickens to me, but I cannot read him myself, so there are sometimes good educational benefits. If people who struggle to read can access the literature in a different form, it may pique their interest in reading. We all know that everyone, especially young people—and especially nowadays—benefits from sitting down quietly and absorbing things in a way that does not involve playing video games and killing people online.

It is really important that people with visual impairment, dyslexia or other medical conditions that require them to read in a different way are not excluded. I listened very carefully to the right hon. Gentleman, and there are real issues in trying to circumnavigate who is eligible for some kind of exemption. That is why in this case—in many other cases too, but especially this one—I plead with the Minister to make it a universal exemption. In other words, people should not have to prove that they cannot access books in any other way. The tax should be gone, because accessing literature is important for everyone.