Personalities book their days in court

After a two-week hearing which saw literary personalities including Tom Stoppard and Auberon Waugh, and former Liberal leader Sir David Steel take the witness box to argue in favour of keeping the 96-year-old Net Book Agreement, the Restrictive Practices Court has reserved judgment.

Mr Justice Ferris, Mr J A King and Mr D B Colgate have been urged by director general of Fair Trading, John Bridgeman that the NBA should be formally ended to ensure that new life cannot be breathed into it at a later date.

But publisher John Calder and Jenny Glayzer who represents the library organisation the National Acquisitions Group, and who argued their case in person, brought forward forceful arguments that the agreement should be retained.

They claim that to kill it off would have a major impact on the price structuring of books and would be a major blow to literature.

Supporting them, Auberon Waugh said it could create a danger of bestseller culture that would bring the world of literature to its knees.

He argued that price-cutting on bestsellers created an unacceptable gap between the price of books which are frequently "trashy" and those which are of literary worth.

Waugh told the court: "I honestly believe that it would be in the interests of our intelligence as a nation to retain the NBA."

Stoppard said that without the NBA a book pricing free-for-all could hit the finances of some booksellers in such a way that some of the important small independents would find their existence put in jeopardy.