Backbench Business

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:29 pm on 15 June 2023.

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Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Financial Secretary to the Treasury 3:29, 15 June 2023

My right hon. Friend makes an important point more generally, if I may have your munificence for a moment, Mr Sharma. It is so important that people such as my right hon. Friend show that dyslexia or other learning conditions need not be a barrier in a person’s ability to achieve success nowadays. In many ways, he will have been at the forefront of that change. I was horrified to hear about the reaction he had at school. I hope and trust that nowadays, children with a similar condition would not have that reaction; it would be much better understood. The fact that he rather endearingly described that he thought it was a tropical disease shows just how far we have come. He and others have been at the forefront of that, and I am genuinely grateful to him for sharing his experiences with us.

Ensuring that everybody is able to access books in all their forms is something that this Government take very seriously. Driving up standards in literacy has been our long-term priority in education, and our focus over the past decade has been on improving the teaching of reading for everybody. We have given students across the country a solid foundation in reading. That is not just to give young people the skills that are vital for their success in later life, but—as Marion Fellows put it so eloquently—to encourage a lifelong love and respect for one of life’s greatest pleasures.

I very much understand the enormous pleasures that audiobooks can bring, as someone whose constituency is quite some distance from London—I know the hon. Lady’s is, too. I have had an excitable seven, eight, nine, 10 and then 11-year-old throughout my career in this place, and having an audiobook that really grips a young child’s attention can be a godsend to parents struggling on long journeys.

I am veering into flippancy, but there is a much more serious point about what an audiobook can mean for an individual’s ability to read and enjoy reading. My right hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead gave the compelling example of his constituent who is losing her sight and with it, she fears, her ability to continue enjoying reading. I take that very seriously. I understand his point about the difference in timing and the implications of VAT.

We believe that a love of reading should be ignited at a young age, which is why we have committed to ensuring that early reading is taught well in schools. We have introduced packages of measures.