1. Madam Speaker, I thank the members who have spoken on this Bill, and for their support for the Bill.
2. SMS Janil has addressed the issues raised by members relating to arts entertainment regulation. I will now focus on the issues relating to the regulation of public entertainment (PE).
PUBLIC ENTERTAINMENT SITUATION
3. Prof Fatimah Lateef and Dr Lee Bee Wah asked about the number and seriousness of PE licensing breaches, and violent crime in PE establishments.
4. In 2016, there were over 600 PE licensing breaches committed. These were committed by about 20% of the 2,700 PE establishment licensees. About 90% of these breaches were minor, such as failing to maintain a proper record of all employees, or failing to ensure that performers do not mingle with patrons. The remaining 10% were major breaches, such as overcrowding, which poses a public safety risk. There were 38 incidents of violent crime, which includes serious hurt and rioting, in PE establishments.
5. The situation is under control and Members have also noted this in their speeches. We are proactively managing the situation, and this Bill strengthens our regulatory levers to ensure that the situation continues to be well-managed. As such, we are adopting a calibrated risk-based regulatory regime.
PREVENTING UNSUITABLE PUBLIC ENTERTAINMENT ESTABLISHMENTS
6. Some members asked for clarifications on the measures to prevent operation of PE establishments by unsuitable persons or businesses, or operated in unsuitable locations.
(a) Assessment of suitability of applicant and other relevant persons
7. Prof Fatimah Lateef and Mr Melvin Yong asked if we can better identify unsuitable persons that hide behind proxies when applying for new licences. This is an issue which we take seriously.
8. At point of licence application, the Police will screen the applicant's background carefully to ascertain if he has links to errant establishments, as well as the applicant's general records. There are also regular checks that Police conduct on PE establishments and the operators after the licence application.
9. Clause 6 of the Bill will also allow Police to apply certain criteria and requirements on not only the applicant, but also relevant persons such as responsible officers of the business entity, and any person who has substantial interest in or control over the business. Police can reject the application, or cancel an issued licence, if any of these relevant persons do not meet Police's criteria and requirements.
10. Mr Murali asked what these criteria and requirements would be. The criteria includes an assessment of honesty, integrity, reputation, competence and capability of the applicant and relevant persons, much like the Liquor Control Act. For example, we will consider whether the applicant and relevant persons have been convicted of serious crimes, and their track records of complying with regulatory requirements. The criteria will be published on the Police website when the amendments to the Act take effect.
(b) Assessing suitability of locations for public entertainment establishments
11. Dr Lee Bee Wah, Ms Denise Phua and Mr Melvin Yong asked whether there are minimum-distance requirements for the approval of PE establishments near residences, religious places, schools or in mixed-use developments. Ms Denise Phua also asked for a whole-of-government approach to determining siting for PE establishments.
12. Singapore has a highly dense urban environment and it is difficult to impose minimum distances between public entertainment and other land use types. A case-by-case approach is taken in such matters. Specific cases in the member's constituencies can be taken up separately. Today, Police coordinate and work closely with agencies such as HDB and URA in assessing applications, and also consider feedback from residents and stakeholders.
13. Police also impose conditions to mitigate potential dis-amenities to the community, such as acceptable noise limits and limiting operating hours, including limiting the liquor serving hours if they have a liquor licence.
14. This Bill will strengthen Police's regulatory levers against errant establishments. I welcome members to work with their grassroots leaders to engage the Ministry and the relevant government agencies, on how we can use these levers to better manage concerns regarding PE establishments in their constituencies.
(c) Penalties for operating public entertainment establishments without a valid licence
15. Ms Thanaletchimi asked whether the proposal to raise the penalty for providing unlicensed PE is due to the rising incidence of unlicensed PE.
16. In 2016, there were only 12 cases of unlicensed PE establishments. We are proposing to raise the fine for unlicensed PE as a matter of principle. A person who disregards the law entirely should be dealt with more harshly than a licenced person who breached licence conditions. Today, the maximum fine for both these offences is the same, at $10,000. The Bill increases the maximum fine for providing unlicensed PE to $20,000.
17. Mr Louis Ng asked if a $20,000 fine is a sufficient deterrent for errant operators who try to circumvent our controls and safeguards altogether, by operating PE establishments without valid licences.
18. If an unlicensed operator is caught, but continues to operate illegally while being investigated by Police, he can be charged for multiple counts of the offence. In addition, such operators may also be liable for other offences, for example the unlicensed sale of liquor under the Liquor Control Act and the penalties will add up for egregious offenders who brazenly flout the law. Further, such offenders will not be considered should they seek to apply for PE licences in future, given their history of non-compliance.
ENHANCED POWERS AGAINST ERRANT ESTABLISHMENTS
(a) Suspension of licence
19. Madam Speaker, I will next address queries on the enhanced powers against errant establishments.
20. Prof Fatimah Lateef, Mr Louis Ng, and Ms Joan Pereira have spoken in support of Clause 10, which allows the Licensing Officer to immediately suspend a PE licence, if proceedings have commenced against the licensee or a relevant person of the business for serious crimes.
21. Mr Murali asked what type of "proceedings" would trigger suspensions. The intention is to suspend licences when the licensee or relevant person is charged in court for a serious crime under the Second Schedule.
22. If the licensee or relevant person is not charged, but has other proceedings such as confiscation orders under the Organised Crime Act outstanding against him, Police can consider suspending or cancelling the licence under the "fit and proper" framework. The same applies for foreign proceedings.
23. Ms Thanaletchimi asked generally about the basis for suspending or cancelling licences. Dr Intan Azura also asked about how the demerit point system works. I have addressed these points in my earlier speech.
(b) Imposing stricter conditions on public entertainment establishments
24. Dr Lee Bee Wah, Prof Randolph Tan, Dr Intan Azura, Ms Joan Pereira and Mr Melvin Yong have raised concerns about fights and dis-amenities in and around PE establishments. They have also suggested various measures to deal with this issue.
25. MHA shares these concerns. Going forward, Police will also require all nightclubs to install CCTV cameras at entrances and exits. This will deter crimes in and around the PE establishment, as well as facilitate investigations into any such crimes that take place. Many responsible PE establishments have already installed such CCTVs.
26. Some members have suggested that the Police also hold the licensees responsible for fights and crime that take place outside of their establishments. Mr Melvin Yong also suggested that demerit points be awarded if security personnel of the establishment are involved in fights, or if they ask patrons to fight or smoke outside.
27. We are exploring new licensing conditions with appropriate demerit points, to address the issue of law and order incidents originating from PE establishments. Licensees should take reasonable steps to respond to incidents that originate from their premises, even if they spill out of the premises.
28. For security officers who are found to be the cause of fights, their licence under the Private Security Industry Act could be revoked. For serious criminal offences, they would also be charged in court.
29. Dr Lee Bee Wah also suggested that Police impose conditions on PE establishments to prohibit their employees from being scantily-clad. Such conditions are already in place. Employees have to be decently attired when carrying out their duties.
30. To address the more fundamental issue of establishments that facilitate or attract vice activities, there are licensing conditions to curb such illegal activities. I also spoke earlier about the new powers to suspend a licence if the licensee or relevant persons have been charged for serious offences in the Second Schedule. The Second Schedule includes vice-related offences under the Women's Charter. If there is any information on breaches, pls call our hotline.
ENFORCEMENT AGAINST ERRANT ESTABLISHMENTS
(a) Appointment of authorised persons
31. Dr Lee Bee Wah asked how much resources are committed to regulating PE establishments. The six Police Land Divisions regularly conduct enforcement checks on PE establishments under their jurisdiction to deter and detect illegal activities. In 2016, Police conducted over 1,000 such checks.
32. Clause 5 of the Bill allows Police to appoint authorised persons to support such checks, in particular checks of a more routine, or preventive nature. This provision gives the Police operational flexibility to deploy manpower more effectively or conduct more frequent checks should the need arises. Authorised persons are also subject to supervisory controls by the Police.
33. Dr Intan, Mr Louis Ng, Mr Murali, Ms Denise Phua and Ms Sylvia Lim asked about "suitably trained" authorised persons and their powers. Examples of "suitably trained" persons include auxiliary police officers (APOs) or retired police officers who have the requisite skills and experience.
34. Authorised persons can only exercise the powers of inspection created by Clause 17. These powers of inspection are tightly scoped to include only the basic powers they need for routine inspections, such as making copies of documents, taking photos or requesting for explanations. Any licensing breaches detected and reported by authorised persons will be investigated by the Police.
35. On Ms Sylvia Lim and Ms Denise Phua's points, routine inspections such as checks on staff records are usually uneventful. But in the event of escalation of violence, authorised officers drawn from the ranks of APOs and retired Police Officers would have received training and experience in managing licensing inspections and managing difficult situations generally, and they can also call for police back-up.
36. APOs today are required to attend basic modules which includes training on checks on persons and bags, and incident management, and they will receive additional training before being deployed to inspect PE establishments.
(b) Forced entry powers
37. On the powers of forced entry for Licensing Officers and Police officers, Ms Sylvia Lim asked why such powers were needed now. Police have encountered PE establishments that locked their premises on arrival of enforcement officers. This provides them opportunity to dispose evidence and lead time to stop any lawful activities. Currently, a search warrant from courts is needed before the police can gain entry into the premises for the purposes of licensing checks. The new power of forced entry will allow Police to take swift and effective action to detect and enforce licensing breaches.
PUBLIC ENTERTAINMENT APPEAL BOARD
38. Madam Speaker, I will now address queries on appeal processes.
39. Mr Louis Ng, Ms Denise Phua, Ms Thanaletchimi, Mr Murali and Ms Sylvia Lim sought clarifications on the structure, processes and terms of reference of the Public Entertainment Appeal Board.
40. The Appeal Board will largely mirror the structure and processes of the existing Liquor Appeal Board under the Liquor Control Act.
41. The Minister for Home Affairs will appoint the members of the Public Entertainment Appeal Board from a range of fields, such as legal, education and business. This ensures that the Appeal Board considers a range of perspectives on issues pertaining to operational matters of PE establishments. To maintain independence, Appeal Board members cannot have any dealings or be in any way concerned with the provision of public entertainment. Appellants only send written representations to the Board and they can engage lawyers to prepare the representations. The Appeal Board decides based on simple majority, and its decision on the merits of the case is final.
42. On whether an appealable decision by the Police will take effect even while the appeal is ongoing, this is not a new provision; it already exists in the current Section 16(4) of the Act. However, the appeal board may decide on a case-by-case basis to specify that the appealable decision should not take effect while the appeal is being considered.
43. The Appeal Board will strive to hear appeals expeditiously, but time taken depends on various factors, including the complexity of the matter.
44. The Minister for Home Affairs will prescribe the classes of PE establishment licensees that will have their appeals heard by the Appeal Board. The current intention is to prescribe all licensees of PE establishments to be heard by the Appeal Board but the Minister can prescribe otherwise in future. The Appeal Board would consider the Licensing Officer's considerations regarding regulation of the PE establishment's operations, as well as the appellant's business concerns.
45. The relevant Ministers will hear appealable decisions from all other licensees that are not prescribed to be heard by the Appeal Board, such as organisers of large-scale, one-off events. Appeals from such licensees tend to involve security and policy considerations and are more complex, and these are matters of governance where the Minister should decide.
46. Mr Melvin Yong asked if the Appeal Board will also hear appeals from residents against the approval or renewal of licences for PE establishments. Our assessment is there is no need for that. Police already take into account residents' and members' representations in such matters.
47. In my earlier speech, I mentioned briefly that following our review, the Police will also work closely with the industry to promote more responsible business operations.
48. Mr Louis Ng asked whether these industry standards have already been drafted, whether they will be published, and eventually legislated. The Singapore Nightlife Business Association (SNBA) and European Chamber of Commerce (EuroCham) have recently announced that they are working together to improve standards in the public entertainment industry, including exploring a formal industry-led accreditation framework.
49. This is an important effort by the industry to voluntarily adopt higher standards to ensure that PE establishments are operated in a responsible manner. The laws are adequate, but if the industry wants to do more, they should be encouraged, and we welcome it.
50. Prof Randolph Tan's suggested that PE establishments put in effort to promote good drinking etiquette. Dr Lee Bee Wah suggested to have additional training for staff to manage disputes. Ms Thanaletchimi suggested we enhance our public education efforts. We will work with industry on this.
TITLE OF THE ACT
51. Ms Thanaletchimi asked for clarification on the separation of public meetings from public entertainments, as a result of the change to the title of the Act. As I have mentioned earlier in my speech, we are removing "Meetings" from the title as meetings, rallies and forums have been regulated under the Public Order Act since 2009.
52. Madam Speaker, I believe I have covered all the points raised by the members. Thank you.