Electronic Commerce Bill, 2000 [ Seanad ] : Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I welcome the Bill. The introduction of new legislation to address the issues raised by the advent of e-commerce is of great importance to all of us. The whole concept of trade and business is fundamentally altering and will never be the same again. It is of vital national importance that we stay to the forefront of technology and this new way of doing business. Ongoing capital investment to enable the best connectivity with high transmission capacity is fundamental in ensuring our premier position in the world market.

We have witnessed the changes in fortune due to the establishment of call centres. These have changed how and where people live. Increasingly, employers and employees will operate from home rather than travelling to and from a set location. This change will have immeasurable effect on spatial planning, how cities develop and the development of modes of transportation. The available market by 2001 will be about 300 million people. It is of real importance that the validity of e-commerce transactions is taken as secure and contracts entered into are beyond question legally.

The world is facing the biggest single revolution as a result of the capacity to share information at the push of a button. From the North Pole to the South Pole, east or west, all who have a thirst for knowledge are empowered. The concept of the human genome breakthrough becoming immediately available free on the Internet is extraordinary. That type of development will enhance e-commerce and turn more minds towards challenging its potential. As in all matters, some of those who explore the system will not wish to stay within the bounds of honest trade. It is necessary to implement this legislation to comfort the rest of us that remedies are at hand to check the ambition of the ruthless.

We must foster a proactive community who seek out the limits of legal application on the web and Internet. We, the last generation of the paper society, must educate the generations to come and use this new gift in the most productive way for the benefit of all society. Reference has been made to the possibility of technological advances in the development of democracy because of technology, with each citizen empowered to take part in decision making through the Internet. That opportunity for good is also an opportunity for great evil. We must ensure that those who will be the instant decision makers are fully educated on their responsibility and are comprehensively briefed on all aspects of the topic before they press the empowered button. A world where one turns on one's computer and demands an immediate answer to a question of national or international importance must be resisted.

The United Nations has drawn up guidelines on international trade law while the European Union tackles the question of electronic signatures. This Bill relies on both as its bedrock and rightly so. Our legislation must be compatible with increasing globalisation while retaining our national character. We must move forward with an air of confidence that e-commerce will have the capacity to liberate all countries of the world, bringing wealth and health to all by opening society.

I thank all Deputies who spoke on this Bill over the three days it was discussed, Deputies Yates, O'Shea, Ring, O'Flynn, Fleming, Deenihan, Ó Caoláin, McGuinness, Moloney, Naughten, Ardagh, Cosgrave and the Minister of State, Deputy Treacy. The number and range of the contributions clearly demonstrated the great interest in the Bill. I was greatly heartened by the cross-party support. There are very few Bills which have genuine cross-party support, that is, all the parties who contribute firmly state their support of the Bill and ask that it be expedited. There has been a warm welcome for this legislation in the business pages of the local, national and international press. There is a clear recognition that Ireland has got it right and the legislation introduced in other countries, particularly the UK, has proved cumbersome and hard to adapt. I think the legislation in other countries will be proved unequal to the task. This Bill which has been produced through the hard work of our officials, the determination of my policy objectives and the consultation process has proved very acceptable, and I am glad this is the case.

I thank the Fine Gael and Labour parties for their contributions and their whole-hearted respect for the Bill, as well as the different points of view which always exist within the parties. I commend Deputy O'Shea who was in the House on all the days the Bill was discussed. As I know quite well, that is difficult to do as Opposition spokesperson. He gave the Bill great attention, as did all the Deputies who spoke. There were a number of queries, but these will arise in amendments on Committee Stage tomorrow and we will be able to answer the various points raised then.

This is an interesting and exciting Bill which will have massive ramifications for business. However, it is psychological as well as practical. Psychologically, we have shown by the early introduction of this Bill and the way it has gained momentum and respect across the House that Ireland is serious and can reach cross-party consensus on legislation which is amazingly receptive to business. I notice the comments in newspapers that there is consensus on this Bill and it has cross-party support. That is a very great feature. In a time of strife, turmoil, trouble, carping and so on, in which we all engage from time to time, I would like to think in a fanciful way that it is like a beacon of hope for business.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Committee Stage ordered for Thursday, 29 June 2000.