Backbench Business

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

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

I totally agree, and the right hon. Gentleman expressed it much better than I was able to.

Reading has many mental health benefits, and there is a clear link between reading and improved wellbeing. Given that the cost of living crisis has led to soaring rates of stress, anxiety and depression, there are clear benefits to making audiobooks more affordable. Norway— I frequently refer to small, independent nations in other debates, although I do not do so on this occasion for any other reason—has scrapped VAT on audiobooks altogether.

The National Literacy Trust says that two in five audiobook listeners are children, and young people said that listening to an audiobook or podcast got them interested in reading books. Something that encourages children to read has to be good. Most children and young people who enjoy listening say that they also enjoy reading, compared with children who do not enjoy listening. Introducing children and young people to reading in a way that they find engaging and enjoyable is a vital means of improving literacy. I have grandchildren, and they love listening to stories on the BBC or through the fancy machine that I bought one of them for Christmas last year. It encourages them to think about books in a positive way. Many more children would benefit if there were no tax on audiobooks. Reducing VAT on audiobooks is essential to ensure that young people especially listen to books.

I want to ask the Minister a question—the RNIB asked me to ask her this, so I will. Has she evaluated the cost of extending the VAT exemption to those who are blind, partially sighted or have print disabilities? Has anything been done on that? As well as that question from the RNIB, I would like to ask a further question: how much would it cost to just remove the tax entirely?

I do not think I need to go on further because the right hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead covered this topic extremely effectively. I cannot find an argument against this, so I am going let the Opposition spokesperson speak and listen carefully to what the Minister has to say on this very important topic.