Minister takes swipe at John Bercow over sales of new book

Treasury minister Jesse Norman said that a reduction in tax on the former Speaker’s book would not encourage anyone to buy it.

Press Association
Last updated: 11 February 2020 - 12.51pm

A Government minister has taken aim at former speaker John Bercow by suggesting a reduction in tax would not encourage anyone to read his new book.

Treasury minister Jesse Norman was responding to a question by SNP MP Martyn Day (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) about whether a zero-rate of VAT could be introduced for e-publications.

It comes after Mr Bercow released his autobiography, detailing his time as Speaker of the House, last week.

Mr Norman said: “I’m grateful to (Mr Day) for a question about e-publications. I see, by the way. Mr Speaker (Lindsay Hoyle), your predecessor Speaker Bercow’s book, aptly named Unspeakable, the autobiography, has just been published.

“Apparently it’s an online bestseller in the rather surprising, slightly niche category of ‘blues musician biographies’. Unlike many other e-books, this book is considerably cheaper than the book itself, whether that will remain so is not clear.

“I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to peruse the work, Mr Speaker, but if you have I’m sure you’ll agree that no reader would have their appetite to read it affected by a reduction in tax.

“What this brings out is that it is a commercial decision as to how e-books are priced and it is far from clear that effecting the change in the tax would affect that decision.”

Jesse Norman took a swipe at John Bercow, who released his book last week (Parliament TV/PA)

Mr Day said that ahead of the Budget, the Government should consider extending zero rate VAT on children’s books and academic journals.

“I thank the minister for his entertaining answer,” he told Mr Norman.

“We on these benches 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, children’s books and academic journals can become more affordable?”

Mr Norman responded: “He’s absolutely right that there are benefits associated with extending zero-rate VAT in this area as others.

“The challenge for Government is to work out what the right thing is to do, all things considered, and 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 lead-up to Budget.”

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