No apologies have been received. I would like to begin by welcoming our members and witnesses to the meeting. Due to the current situation regarding Covid-19, only the clerks, support staff and I are in the committee room. Members of the committee are attending remotely from within the precincts of Leinster House. This is due to the constitutional requirement that in order to participate in public meetings, members must be physically present within the confines of where the Parliament has chosen to sit.
The Comptroller and Auditor General, Mr. Seamus McCarthy, is a permanent witness to the committee and joins us this morning, when we will engage with officials from the Department of Health to examine the 2020 appropriation account, Vote 38 - Health. The Department has also been advised that the committee might wish to examine matters relating to the value for money review of the nursing home support scheme, or fair deal scheme, as well as analysis undertaken by the national paediatric hospital development board on the new children's hospital. Arising from consideration of an item of correspondence at last week's meeting, we also sought information regarding the governance arrangements pertaining to the State expenditure on prescription medicines.
We are joined remotely from within the precincts of Leinster House by Mr. Robert Watt, Secretary General, and by Mr. Kevin Colman, Mr. John O'Grady and Ms Fiona Larthwell, principal officers. We are also joined remotely from outside the precincts of Leinster House by Mr. Jim Deane, principal officer in the health Vote section at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. They are all very welcome.
When we begin to engage, I would ask members and witnesses to mute themselves when not contributing so we do not pick up any background noise or feedback. As usual, I remind all those in attendance to ensure their mobile phones are on silent or switched off. Before we start, I wish to explain some of the limitations of parliamentary privilege and the practice of the House as regards references that our witnesses may make to other persons in their evidence. The evidence of witnesses physically present or who give evidence from within the parliamentary precincts is protected pursuant to the Constitution and statute by absolute privilege. However, one of today's witnesses is giving evidence remotely from a place outside the parliamentary precincts. As such, they may not benefit from the same level of immunity from legal proceedings as witnesses physically present on campus. That witness has already been advised and they may think it appropriate to take legal advice on this matter.
Witnesses should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable, or otherwise engage in speech that might be regarded as damaging to the good name of a person or entity. Therefore, if their statements are potentially defamatory in relation to an identifiable person or entity witnesses will be directed to discontinue their remarks. It is imperative that they comply with any such direction.
Members are reminded of the provision in Standing Order 218 that the committee shall refrain from inquiring into the merits of a policy or policies of the Government or a Minister of the Government or the merits of the objective of such policies. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against any person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
To assist our broadcast and debates services, I ask that members direct their questions to a specific witness. If the question is not being directed to a specific witness, I would ask each witness to state their name when they first contribute. I am mindful of the fact that we are online and there is sometimes a delay. I do not want to interrupt anyone but if I have to intervene, I ask members and witnesses to comply with that and ensure we are not talking over each other. I ask members and witnesses to be mindful that it is a little more difficult to run a meeting remotely than when we are all physically present in a committee room. I ask them for their co-operation in that regard.
I now call the Comptroller and Auditor General, Mr. Seamus McCarthy, for his opening statement.