Madam Speaker, I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
1. The Public Entertainments and Meetings Act (PEMA) regulates public entertainment. It ensures that public entertainment is carried out in a lawful and orderly manner, in line with standards of public decency, and at suitable places.
2. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and the Ministry for Communications and Information (MCI) share the administration of the Act. MHA regulates public entertainment (PE) establishments such as nightclubs, billiard saloons and gaming centres, and public entertainment events, while MCI regulates arts entertainment, such as plays, musicals and exhibitions.
Impetus for review
3. Singapore's public entertainment industry is dynamic. Consumer preferences change and business models evolve rapidly.
4. We have to constantly fine tune the public entertainment regulatory regime to stay current and effective. Currently, about 4 in 5 PE establishments have good track records of complying with licence conditions. A small group of errant establishments breach these conditions, do not cooperate with the Police and create law and order problems.
5. MHA last amended PEMA in 2000 to improve the administration of public entertainment licences. MCI amended PEMA in 2014 to establish a framework for greater clarity and consistency in the regulation of arts entertainment. It is timely to update PEMA and ensure its relevancy.
Review process and outcome
6. MHA has reviewed its approach to regulating PE establishments and will put in place a more calibrated, risk-based regulatory regime.
7. For the vast majority of licensees who are law-abiding, we will take a lighter touch, to support the continued vibrancy of the industry. For instance, MHA will introduce licences with longer validity periods than the standard one-year licences that are issued to all PE establishments today. The Police will also work closely with the industry to promote more responsible business operations.
8. On the other hand, we need to strengthen regulatory levers against errant PE establishments.
9. The Bill proposes to make the necessary legislative amendments to support this enhanced regulatory regime.
10. As part of the review, MHA consulted the public entertainment industry, through the Singapore Nightlife Business Association (SNBA).
11. We reached out to close to 180 nightlife establishments. The SNBA and these establishments support the proposed amendments in the Bill.
12. MCI has also reviewed the arts entertainment-related provisions for greater consistency between the regulation of arts entertainment held at public entertainment establishments or events, which are licensable by the Police, and the regulation of arts entertainment held at other venues.
13. The amendments are intended to clarify that arts entertainment will be regulated in the same manner regardless of whether it is held at PE establishments or events licensable by the Police, or at other venues.
14. The amendments do not entail any changes to existing arts entertainment content standards or the Info-Communications Media Development Authority's (IMDA's) arts entertainment classification and licensing processes. MCI has engaged both the public entertainment industry and the arts community on these amendments.
Key clauses in Bill
15. Let me now take Members through the key provisions of the Bill.
(a) Preventing unsuitable public entertainment establishments
16. The first set of amendments seek to prevent the operation of PE establishments that are either operated by unsuitable persons or businesses, or operated in unsuitable locations.
Expand assessment of licensee suitability to other relevant persons in the business
17. Under the current Section 5 of the Act, the Licensing Officer may require an applicant for a public entertainment licence to satisfy certain criteria and requirements. This existing provision allows the Licensing Officer to assess whether the applicant is fit and proper to carry on a public entertainment business, and prevent unsuitable persons from doing so.
18. Clause 6 of the Bill expands this assessment of applicant suitability to include persons who are related to the applicant, namely the responsible officers and individuals with substantial interest in, or control or direction over the business of the applicant.
19. Clause 4 of the Bill defines "responsible officer" and it will cover directors of body corporates, partners of partnerships, and officers of unincorporated associations, as the case may be.
20. This ensures that all persons who can influence the decisions of the business are duly assessed, and are not working behind the scenes to operate the PE establishment.
21. The Police have reviewed the criteria and requirements to be applied to both applicants and their related persons, and the updated criteria and requirements will be published on the Police's website in due course.
Taking into account URA planning and land use considerations in approving a place for operating a public entertainment establishment
22. One key objective of PEMA is to ensure that public entertainment is carried out at suitable places.
23. Clause 4 creates a new provision that requires the Licensing Officer to take into account the Urban Redevelopment Authority's (URA's) planning considerations in approving a place to operate a PE establishment. For example, the Licensing Officer cannot approve applications for pubs and bars in a conservation area, to maintain the character of historic districts.
Enhanced penalties for operating public entertainment establishments without a valid licence
24. The Bill also proposes to increase the penalties for errant operators who try to circumvent our controls and safeguards altogether, by operating PE establishments without valid licences.
25. Clause 20 of the Bill increases the maximum fine for providing public entertainment without a licence, or while the licence is suspended, from the existing $10,000 to $20,000.
26. This amendment differentiates offences by licensees who contravene licence conditions or the Act, and such offences are currently subject to a maximum fine of $10,000.
27. The offender who disregarded the law entirely has to be treated more harshly than the offender who had obtained a licence but was not fully compliant with its conditions or the Act. The maximum fine for providing public entertainment without a valid licence will be raised to $20,000.
(b) Enhanced powers against errant establishments
28. In cases where licensees do not comply with licensing conditions or become unsuitable to operate a PE establishment, the Police must have the powers to deal effectively with them. The second set of amendments will strengthen these powers.
Awarding demerit points for offences taken into consideration by the courts for the purpose of sentencing
29. The Demerit Point System, introduced in 2000, allows the Police to adopt a graduated enforcement approach against licensees who infringe licence conditions.
30. Licensees are given demerit points for breaches, and appropriate action is taken depending on the number of demerit points accumulated over a two-year period.
31. A licence will be suspended for one month at 21 demerit points, and cancelled altogether at 24 demerit points.
32. The Police impose demerit points for licensing breaches that are compounded, or for which the licensee is convicted in court.
33. If the licensee is charged for multiple licensing breaches, it is usual for the Court to take into consideration a proportion of the charges for the purpose of sentencing, rather than convict the licensee for all charges.
34. Charges that are taken into consideration for purpose of sentencing currently do not attract demerit points.
35. Clause 11 of the Bill now allows demerit points to be given in respect of charges that are taken into consideration by the court, since the licensee has admitted to committing the licensing breaches.
Immediate suspension for serious offences
36. The Demerit Point System provides early warning for minor breaches and encourages the licensee to exercise self-discipline. However, the Licensing Officer may immediately suspend or cancel the licence where the need arises. The existing Section 14 enables this.
37. Even so, Section 14, subsection 1 only applies where the public entertainment provided is problematic. For example, it does not apply if illegal acts carried out by the licensee or his employees are not associated with the public entertainment provided at the establishment.
38. Therefore, Clause 10 of the Bill expands on Section 14, to allow the Licensing Officer to immediately suspend a PE licence, if the licensee or a relevant person of the business is charged in court for serious crimes arising out of or in connection with any activity in the licensed establishment. These serious crimes must have a nexus with the establishment, but not necessarily the public entertainment provided in the establishment.
39. This includes offences such as drug offences, trafficking-in-persons and offences under the Organised Crime Act. The list of serious crimes are specified in the new Second Schedule to the Act.
40. This will allow the Police to immediately suspend PE establishments which are being used for such serious crimes, instead of waiting for court trials on the cases to conclude. This also deters other operators from using their establishments for unlawful activities.
(c) Enhanced enforcement powers
41. The third set of amendments enhances Police operational effectiveness in enforcing the Act.
Authorised persons and powers of inspection
42. Clause 5 of the Bill allows the Licensing Officer to appoint suitably-trained individuals as "authorised persons".
43. Clause 17 empowers authorised persons to conduct inspections at PE establishments and events. Authorised persons will not be given the more specialised powers that the Licensing Officer and Police officers have, for example powers of forced entry and arrest.
44. These provisions give the Police operational flexibility to deploy manpower more effectively or conduct more frequent checks if the need arises.
Power of forced entry
45. Clause 18 empowers Licensing Officers and Police Officers to enter premises, including using necessary force, if there is reasonable suspicion that offences under the Act are being or has been committed within.
(d) Public Entertainment Appeal Board
46. Today, appeals against the decision of the Licensing Officer are heard by the relevant Minister. Clause 15 of the Bill will set up an appeal board to hear appeals by classes of applicants or licensees that the Minister may prescribe.
47. The Public Entertainment Appeal Board will operate like the Liquor Appeal Board under the Liquor Control Act. The Minister for Home Affairs will appoint the members of the Board. The intent is to appoint members from diverse fields, including legal, education and business. The Appeal Board will receive representations from the Licensing Officer and the appellant, and makes a decision based on simple majority. Its decision on the merits of the case will be final.
(e) Regulation of Arts Entertainment
48. On behalf of the Minister responsible for arts entertainment, I will now address MCI's proposed amendments in the Bill. The first two sets of amendments by MCI deal with the classification of arts entertainment, while the third relates to appeals against IMDA's classification decisions.
Classification of arts entertainment
49. For arts entertainment licensed by IMDA under the Act, IMDA may impose conditions as part of the arts entertainment licence. However, for arts entertainment held at PE establishments or events, IMDA will not be able to impose such conditions within the public entertainment licence issued by the Police.
50. Clause 12 allows IMDA to impose the conditions as part of IMDA's classification of the arts entertainment held at PE establishments or events, thereby giving these conditions the same effect as licensing conditions imposed by IMDA.
51. The second set of amendments involves arts entertainment content that exceeds the maximum R18 rating under the Arts Entertainment Classification Code (AECC).
52. Currently, IMDA will not issue arts entertainment licences for such arts entertainment content. However, this does not apply for PE establishments or events.
53. Clause 13 clarifies that IMDA may refuse to classify such arts entertainment content regardless of whether it is held at PE establishments or events or at other venues. Under the Act, an arts entertainment that has not been classified cannot be staged.
54. This will thus ensure consistency in the treatment of arts entertainment exceeding the maximum R18 rating regardless of whether it comes under a public entertainment licence by the Police or a licence by IMDA.
Appeals against IMDA's classification decisions
55. The third set of amendments relates to appeals against IMDA's classification decisions.
56. Clause 15 clarifies that any licensee, including those holding public entertainment licences issued by the Police, may appeal against IMDA's classification decisions for arts entertainment. Appealable decisions refer to IMDA's classification ratings, its refusal to classify content that exceeds the maximum R18 rating under the AECC and the imposition of conditions as part of its classification of arts entertainment.
57. These amendments will ensure consistency in the regulation of arts entertainment regardless of whether it comes under a public entertainment licence by the Police or a licence by IMDA.
58. There will be no changes to existing arts entertainment content standards under the AECC or IMDA's arts entertainment classification and licensing processes.
59. I will now touch briefly on other amendments of the Bill.
Protection from personal liability
60. Clause 21 confers personal immunity on Licensing Officers, Police Officers and authorised persons acting with reasonable care and in good faith in the execution or purported execution of the Act.
Clarification on exemption powers of the appropriate Ministers
61. Clause 16 clarifies that the Ministers charged with the responsibility for public entertainments and arts entertainments respectively have the powers to make exemptions for their respective areas.
Change of Act title
62. Finally, Clauses 2, 3 and 24 of the Bill amend the title of the Act from the "Public Entertainments and Meetings Act" to the "Public Entertainments Act". The regulation of meetings such as rallies, talks and forums now falls under the Public Order Act, which was enacted in 2009.
63. In conclusion, the amendments to the Act will strengthen MHA's and MCI's regulatory frameworks for public entertainments and arts entertainments respectively, and keeps the Act relevant to today's operating environment.
64. Madam Speaker, I beg to move.