Electronic Commerce Bill, 2000 [ Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil ] : Report and Final Stages.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

This is a Seanad Bill which has been amended by the Dáil. In accordance with Standing Order 103, it is deemed to have passed its First, Second and Third Stages in the Seanad and is placed on the Order Paper for Report Stage. On the question, "That the Bill be received for final consideration," the Minister may explain the purpose of the amendments made by the Dáil. This is looked upon as the report of the Dáil amendments to the Seanad. The only matters, therefore, that may be discussed are the amendments made by the Dáil. For Senators' convenience, I have arranged for the printing and circulation of the amendments. Senators may speak only once on Report Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be received for final consideration."

I am pleased to be back in this House with the Bill which I initiated in this House, and to report to the Seanad on the Dáil amendments to the Bill. I took on board four amendments from Senators on Committee Stage following which the Bill was taken in the Dáil. It is widely reported in today's newspapers, includingThe Irish Times, that this is a very good Bill and the cross-party support it received is greatly welcomed in the business community. There was a very informed debate in this House in April and I am pleased the Bill stimulated a similarly lively debate on e-commerce related issues in Dáil Éireann.

This is the first time the Oireachtas has debated such issues because these are new information technology advances. Given that fact, I am particularly pleased that such an informed debate took place in this House and in the Dáil. Contributions from all sides of both Houses demonstrated a keen awareness of the vital importance of e-commerce to the future of the country. A number of Dáil amendments were made to the Bill, both Government and Opposition, which I will now report.

A new section 15 by way of a Fine Gael amendment was inserted in the Bill to clarify for the avoidance of doubt that existing consumer law applies to e-commerce in the State and that the Director of Consumer Affairs is responsible for enforcing this legislation. Senators will recall that a problem with section 19 was highlighted by an amendment from Senator Costello on Committee Stage in the Seanad. In reply, I proposed to examine the issue in more detail and amend the section on Committee Stage in the Dáil. In fact, I did not have to table such an amendment because Deputy Yates came to the same conclusion to which I came. He proposed to delete the section, which I was pleased to do.

The issue of the admissibility of electronic evidence in criminal proceedings was also raised on Committee Stage in the Seanad by an amendment to section 22 proposed by Senator Costello. I accepted this amendment in good faith. However, subsequently the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform pointed out that the amendment is in direct conflict with the Criminal Evidence Act, 1992, particularly section 30 of the Act which provides on a general basis for the tendering in evidence in criminal proceedings of copies of documents, regardless of whether the original is still in existence. The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform requested that the Bill be amended to state that it shall not prejudice the Criminal Evidence Act, 1992. This amendment meant that section 22(2), as inserted by a Seanad amendment, no longer made sense and was deleted on that basis.

A new section on defamation law was also inserted in the Bill. Again this was an avoidance of doubt type amendment which clarified that defamation law applies to electronic communications within the State. A number of minor amendments of a technical nature were also accepted. While they will be clearly noted in the Bill they are not of interest to either House.

I thank the Minister for coming to the House and giving us an update on the amendments to this Bill that were passed by Dáil Éireann. As the Minister said, this Bill was initiated here and she accepted four of our amendments. Senators are extremely interested in this Bill. For the past three weeks Senator Quinn, and I am sorry he is not here today, asked the Leader what stage this Bill had reached in the Dáil and whether it would be returned to the Seanad before the summer recess. The Leader gave him an undertaking that it would but Senator Quinn doubted him. It has happened. This is a very important Bill for Irish business life. I am glad it passed all Stages in the Dáil and has been sent back here. I thank the Minister for keeping us informed.

I welcome the Minister to the House and I thank her for initiating this Bill in Seanad Éireann. I compliment her on the way she handled this very important Bill in both Houses. When she comes here to discuss amendments she talks over any problems and this means there are not many votes because most of the time a consensus will be reached. I thank the Opposition for the efficient way they have dealt with this Bill. I compliment Senator Doyle for being agreeable during today's debate on this Bill.

I would like to inform the House that the President intends to put her electronic signature on the Bill so that it can become an Act. She is looking forward to doing that. This matter has nothing to do with me. She expressed a wish to sign the Bill and that is what she will do.

Question put and agreed to.
Question, "That the Bill do now pass", put and agreed to.