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Zero VAT Rate: E-publications

Volume 671: debated on Tuesday 11 February 2020

8. What recent assessment his Department has made of the potential merits of introducing a zero-rate of VAT for e-publications. (900730)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question about e-publications and see by the way, Mr Speaker, that your predecessor Speaker Bercow’s book, aptly named “Unspeakable: the Autobiography” has just been published. Apparently it is an online bestseller in the rather surprising, slightly niche category of blues musician biographies. Unlike many other e-books, it is considerably cheaper than the book itself; whether that will remain so is not clear. I do not know whether you have had a chance to peruse the work, Mr Speaker, but if you have, I am sure you will agree that no reader would have their appetite to read it affected by a reduction in tax. What this brings out is that the pricing of e-books is a commercial decision, and it is far from clear whether changing the tax would affect that decision.

I thank the Minister for his entertaining answer. Scottish National party Members are very disappointed that the last Government refused to back our demands to remove VAT from electronic publications. So with the Budget only a month away, will he consider a change of policy so that at the very least, online children’s books and academic journals can become more affordable?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that there are benefits associated with extending the zero rate of VAT in this area, as in others. The task for Government is to work out what is the right thing to do, all things considered. All I can say is that we have responded to the Cairncross review in part of this area, and we continue to keep all taxes under review, especially in the lee of a budget.

While agreeing with the point made for the SNP by the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day), does the Minister not find it somewhat ironic that the only way we can reduce the rate of VAT to zero is through Brexit, yet the SNP wishes to remain in the EU, and we would therefore not be able to reduce VAT if that were the case?

That is a very telling point, and I draw the House’s attention to the parallel issue of sanitary products for women, on which I am pleased to say we will be able to act after we have left the EU.