The committee is meeting today to consider the report on the pre-legislative scrutiny of the Water Environment (Abstractions) Bill 2020 and to begin pre-legislative scrutiny on the general scheme of the Electoral Reform Bill 2020. I advise members that the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has contacted the secretariat in relation to its statutory role to input into legislation with human rights or equality elements and it will be making a written submission on the Bill.
No. 1 is adoption of the draft report on pre-legislative scrutiny of the general scheme of the Water Environment (Abstractions) Bill 2020. The amendments agreed at the private meeting on Tuesday,19 January have been incorporated into the draft report and there are a couple of technical amendments to be made, such as adding links and proofing the terms of reference for changes to Standing Orders. Subject to those amendments being made by the secretariat, do members agree to adopt the draft report; agree that the report be laid before the Houses, printed and published; agree that the report be launched by way of a press release; and agree that a debate on the report should be held in the Houses of the Oireachtas? Agreed. I thank members.
No. 2 is pre-legislative scrutiny of the general scheme of the Electoral Reform Bill 2020. We are joined remotely by the Minister of State, Deputy Malcolm Noonan, who is accompanied by Department officials from the franchise unit: Mr. Barry Ryan and Ms Petra Woods, principal officers, and Mr. Martin Hehir and Ms Paris Beausang, assistant principal officers. The opening statement and briefing materials have been circulated to members.
It is important for members to acknowledge the work that was done by the previous committee on electoral reform and the report it published. Several of the concerns and recommendations raised have been included in the scheme of the Bill.
I will ask the Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage to make his opening statement and then members will be invited to address questions. As usual, we will try to keep our questioning to five minutes. I will welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, and invite him to make his opening statement in a moment, but I have to read a note on privilege first.
Members attending from their Oireachtas offices are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their participation in this meeting. This means they have an absolute defence against any defamation action for anything they say at the meeting. However, they are expected not to abuse the privilege and it is my duty as Chairman to ensure this privilege is not abused. Therefore, if the statement of a member is potentially defamatory in respect of an identifiable person or entity, the member will be directed to discontinue his or her remarks. It is imperative that members comply with any such direction.
For witnesses attending remotely there are some limitations to parliamentary privilege and they may not benefit from the same level of immunity from legal proceedings as a person who is physically present would. Witnesses are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise, or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
The opening statements submitted to the committee will be published on the committee website after this meeting.
I call on Minister of State to make his opening statement.