Parliamentary Speeches

Second Reading of the Liquor Control (Supply and Consumption) Bill - Speech by Mr S Iswaran, Minister in Prime Minister’s Office and Second Minister for Home Affairs and Trade & Industry ​

Published: 30 January 2015

Madam Speaker, I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."


I) Impetus for Review


2. In September 2012, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) embarked on a review of our liquor control measures.  The review was prompted by several factors.  The Ministry had received considerable feedback from the public on law and order concerns and disamenities arising from liquor consumption and drunkenness in public places.  These concerns were echoed in media reports, with businesses and members of the public voicing concerns about youths congregating and getting inebriated in public areas, creating noise and causing other disturbances.


3. Several Members of this House had also raised similar concerns on behalf of their constituents.  Residents in the heartlands were worried about people gathering and consuming liquor along pavements, at HDB void decks, parks, playgrounds and other community spaces.  These individuals would often disrupt the peace and leave a trail of broken bottles and other litter.  Sometimes, the drinking led to fights and disorderly conduct, compounding the sense of insecurity.  These problems were exacerbated by the easy availability of take-away liquor from near-by retail shops. 


4. Separately, the Police have also been monitoring incidents associated with the consumption of liquor.  Last year there were 47 cases of rioting linked to the consumption of liquor. Rioting here is defined in the law as groups of five or more persons inflicting violence on others.  In addition, there were about 100 cases of affray and 115 cases of serious hurt, which were related to the consumption of liquor. These serious hurt cases include stabbing, cutting using dangerous weapons, and inflicting severe bodily pain on victims.  In other words, if I can put it in a different way, on average, there was one rioting incident and two cases of serious hurt each week that was related to alcohol consumption.  And the trend has been on the rise.  These incidents occurred across the island, with 9 out of 10 occurring after 10.30pm. Lest there be any misconception, this is not attributable to any one nationality and indeed I would say that the statistics speak for themselves. In general, foreigners are not disproportionately represented in these statistics. Singaporeans are also implicated in many of these incidents.


5. Over the last 3 years, there was an average of 530 cases of persons found to be drunk and incapable in public places.  And these numbers do not take into account the many cases of noise and other disturbances arising from liquor consumption, which often go unreported.  Neither do they capture fully the inconveniences and sense of insecurity that affected residents have had to live with.


6. Hence, there were widespread calls and compelling reasons for the Ministry of Home Affairs to consider proactive measures to restrict the supply and consumption of liquor in public places, in order to avert the significant disamenities caused to residents, and mitigate the risks to law and order.


II) Review Process and Outcome


7. As part of the review, the Ministry of Home Affairs conducted wide public consultations between October 2013 and August 2014, and received about 400 pieces of written feedback from individuals and various organisations.  The Ministry also engaged about 180 stakeholder groups including members of the public, grassroots representatives and industry groups.  In general, they were unequivocal in their support for the introduction of measures to curb retail sale of liquor, and its consumption in public places to keep their neighbourhoods safe and minimise the occurrence of fights, rowdiness, and other disamenities.


8. The Little India riot occurred in December 2013, in the midst of this process.  The Committee of Inquiry into the riot later concluded that liquor was, and I quote,"a major contributory factor to the nature and escalation of the riot."[1] Shortly after the incident, the Ministry of Home Affairs implemented measures approved by this house, under the Public Order (Additional Temporary Measures) Act, to restrict the supply of take-away liquor and its consumption in public places within the designated special zone in Little India.  Notwithstanding some of the initial concerns that were expressed, the implementation has proceeded without incident.  Residents and stakeholders in Little India have generally welcomed the positive impact of these measures including a heightened sense of safety and orderliness, and a significant reduction in disamenities.  


9. The Ministry has also studied the practices in major cities in the United States, Australia and Europe.  It is noteworthy that we have a rather liberal regime compared to major, prominent cities around the world.  Their liquor regulatory regimes vary, from those that impose a complete ban on the consumption of liquor in public areas, such as New York City, Washington D.C, the Gold Coast and Perth in Australia, to those that have strict controls in certain areas such as in Sydney, Austin and Paris.  Our purpose in these studies was to understand how such curbs were implemented in such cities without diminishing their vibrancy or imposing undue constraints on their citizens.


10. Madam, this Bill is the culmination of a deliberate 2-year process that has been informed by the Police's operational assessment of the ground; widespread feedback and consultation; the experience of other jurisdictions, and indeed our own experience implementing similar measures in Little India.  Its provisions address the demand and supply aspects in order to foster greater responsibility in the sale and consumption of alcohol.  We sought a set of measures that is clear and consistent, easy to understand and comply with, and that causes minimal disruption to the usual legitimate activities of residents.  Any curbs on the retail sales of liquor also had to take into account the impact on businesses.  The Bill also provides for a range of enforcement powers that enables the Police to take more calibrated action in circumstances that might pose a risk to public order.  This measured and holistic approach is necessary and it entails important trade-offs, because what this Bill proposes, in effect, is a transition from the current regime which has very few restrictions, to one which has carefully-calibrated restrictions that allow most alcohol-related activities to carry on as usual, but places restrictions at those times when they are most likely to cause disamenities to others, and in areas where there are law and order concerns. This proposed regime will set new norms of individual behaviour with respect to the purchase of take-away liquor and consumption of liquor in public places, in order to reduce the disamenities and risks to public order inflicted on the wider community.


III) Objectives of Bill


11. Madam, the Liquor Control (Supply and Consumption) Bill will provide the legislative framework to regulate the supply and consumption of liquor in public places.  It will also provide for enforcement powers to mitigate risks to public disorder and disamenities arising from public drunkenness.  It consolidates and enhances existing provisions in various pieces of legislation, and introduces new provisions. 


IV) Key Clauses in Bill


12. Madam, let me now highlight key clauses in the Bill.


Consumption of liquor in public places


13. One component of the Bill relates to provisions on the public consumption of liquor and public drunkenness.


14. Under Clause 12, the Minister can prescribe "no-public drinking periods" during which the consumption of liquor in public places is not permitted.  As announced earlier, the Ministry of Home Affairs intends to disallow the consumption of liquor in public places from 10.30pm to 7am daily, with stricter hours in specified zones, specifically Geylang and Little India.  Exemptions from this restriction will be provided under Clauses 12 and 13. 


15.  Madam, some have suggested that rather than a general restriction, we should impose restrictions on specific problem areas.  We did consider this approach but it poses several problems.  First, liquor-related law and order issues and disamenities are not confined only to certain "hot spots"; in fact, they occur in different parts of the island.  Second, dividing up a typical area which has residential units, some common areas such as void decks, playgrounds and neighbourhood parks, and some F & B and commercial outlets, into multiple finely delineated liquor control zones would lead to confusion and make compliance and also enforcement more difficult.  Third, the designation of special zones is likely to displace activity to neighbouring areas.  Indeed, the Police have observed some evidence of this in areas adjacent to Little India.  Potential trouble-makers could also play cat-and-mouse with enforcement officers by simply taking a step across the boundary.  


16. The proposed restriction period of 10.30pm to 7am is intended to minimise the disruption to the usual activities of most residents. So individuals can continue to consume liquor in public places before 10.30pm, except in the two specified zones. 10.30pm is the closing time of most businesses in residential areas, indeed many close earlier. It is also when most social and community activities such as local celebrations, getai and grassroots events end. 


17. Individuals can continue to consume liquor at licensed premises such as coffee shops, beer gardens, restaurants and bars, during their licensed hours, even if this is beyond 10.30pm.  So, there is no change. 


18. Members of the public attending an event in public places can also continue to consume liquor beyond 10.30pm, if the organiser has obtained the requisite permit from the Police as provided for under Clauses 12 and 13.  Where possible, the Police intend to streamline this process to obtain such permits.  


Public Drunkenness and Enforcement Powers


19. Let me now turn to Clause 14 that deals with public drunkenness. Today, there are provisions under the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act and the Penal Code to curb offensive behaviour including being drunk and incapable of taking care of oneself, and being drunk and creating public annoyance or disorder.  These provisions will be transferred to the new legislation, and they will attract similar penalties. A person who is drunk and incapable is liable to a fine of $1000, or an imprisonment term of one month, or both.  The offence of drunk and creating public annoyance will result in a fine of up to $1000, or imprisonment of six months, or both, and repeat offenders will face higher penalties. These are similar to the penalties under current laws.


20. A definition of being "drunk" is also introduced under Clause 14, to provide clarity on what Police take into consideration in assessing drunkenness.  This however does not change the threshold that has to be met for an offence to be made out.


21. Under current laws, the Police only have the power of arrest to deal with these offences.  Understandably, the Police exercise this power of arrest only in the most egregious cases.  Consequently, residents, as well as Members of this House have often raised the point that Police do not seem to be able to act when Police turn up in response to residents' complaints.  And that the public drinking nuisance recurs when Police leave the scene.  With the proposed Bill, the Police will be able to take a more calibrated set of enforcement measures based on the circumstances in their assessment of the situation.  In particular, Clauses 14, 21, 22 and 33 allow the Police to require information, require persons to dispose of their liquor, issue orders to move on and leave the place, and issue composition fines in lieu of prosecution.


22. Under Clauses 22 and 23, the Police can also inspect personal belongings and search places for liquor containers.  These powers can only be exercised upon reasonable suspicion that an offence has been committed.  


23. With this range of powers, the Police will be able to intervene early and more effectively, with calibrated enforcement to deal with nuisance related to public consumption of alcohol, and before drunken behaviour escalates into public disorder.


Liquor licensing


24. Madam, another component of the Bill pertains to liquor licensing.  The existing provisions on liquor licensing will be transferred from the Customs Act to the new law, and some changes made to the licensing framework.


25. Clauses 4 to 7 provide for the regulation of the supply of liquor.  Licensees are permitted to supply liquor only at premises and during trading hours specified in the licence.  The Minister for Home Affairs will be empowered under the new law to prescribe trading hours that can override those specified in the licence.  This effectively allows the Minister to prescribe shorter trading hours in areas that might pose a more significant risk of public disorder associated with the consumption of liquor.  In line with the general restriction on the consumption of liquor in public places, the retail sale hours for take-away liquor will also be required to end at 10.30pm.  Requests for extension of sale hours beyond 10.30pm will be considered on a case-by-case basis.


26. The regulatory functions that are currently vested with the Liquor Licensing Board will be vested in a Licensing Officer appointed by the Minister.  Under Clauses 8 and 9, the Licensing Officer is empowered to grant, renew, suspend or cancel liquor licences in accordance with the object of the law.  The Licensing Officer may also impose or vary licensing conditions in his or her discretion, after giving the licensee an opportunity to be heard.  The Liquor Licensing Board will be renamed the Liquor Appeal Board as it will continue to hear appeals.  This delineation of roles and responsibilities will ensure clear accountability.


27. Clause 10 provides the basic powers of entry and search to allow enforcement officers to conduct checks on premises to ensure that the law is being complied with.  In addition, in the event that there is a significant threat to public safety, order or peace, or if an offence involving violence is suspected to have been committed on the premises, the Commissioner of Police can, under Clause 11, order the closure of the premises for up to 72 hours. He can order the licensee to take certain measures to mitigate the risks, and to vary the licence or suspend the licence until the significant threat or risk no longer exists or the remedial measures have been taken.  This allows the Police to take swift action to mitigate serious any serious threat to public order.  


28. The penalties for offences related to liquor licensing under Clauses 5 to 7 will be enhanced from a maximum fine of $5,000 to $10,000.  Clause 4 increases the penalty for the more egregious offence of unlicensed supply of liquor to a maximum fine of $20,000, with an imprisonment term of up to six months for repeat offenders.


Liquor Control Zones


29. Madam, let me now elaborate on the Liquor Control Zones.  In areas where there is a heightened risk of public disorder associated with liquor consumption, more stringent measures will be imposed to mitigate the risks.  Clause 15 empowers the Minister to designate such areas as Liquor Control Zones.


30. As I explained earlier, based on Police's current operational assessment, there is in general, a material number of cases of serious crime or incidents involving liquor consumption, and there is a disproportionate number of law and order incidents in Little India and Geylang that are associated with liquor consumption.  The regular and large congregations of people, both local and foreign, in these areas exacerbate the risk.   To illustrate, about one-fifth of all rioting cases islandwide occur in Geylang and Little India.  About 10% of serious hurt cases were in Geylang and Little India.  Also, 40-50% of serious incidents in Geylang and Little India are linked to liquor consumption; that is about twice the national average.


31. Hence, under the proposed Bill, specified areas in Little India and Geylang will be designated as Liquor Control Zones.  Stricter restrictions on the hours for the supply and consumption of liquor, similar to those applied in Little India under the Public Order (Additional Temporary Measures) Act will be implemented in these zones.


32. Clauses 16 to 20 provide for enhanced measures and penalties for offences committed within the Liquor Control Zones, commensurate with the higher risk.  Liquor-related offences committed within the zones will result in a penalty of one and a half times that in non-designated areas.  The Commissioner of Police will also be empowered to require a person to cease business activities in a Liquor Control Zone if he is found to have repeatedly supplied liquor without a valid licence from his premises.  This prevents businesses from continuing to circumvent regulation and supplying liquor freely within the zones.


33. The Commissioner of Police or authorised officers will also be empowered under Clauses 18 and 19  to issue a banning notice to an individual if he has committed a liquor-related offence in the zone, and is likely to commit it again and cause public disorder.  The banning notice will prohibit him from returning to the Liquor Control Zone for a period not exceeding 30 days.  This measure is intended to be used in egregious cases.  The Police will also be empowered under Clause 20 to refuse entry or remove a subject from a Liquor Control Zone for up to 24 hours if he does not comply with Police's orders or has committed offences related to liquor consumption or intoxication.


V) Other Provisions


34. Madam, I will now touch briefly on the other provisions in the Bill.


35. Clauses 25 to 27 provide for appeals related to liquor licensing to be heard by an independent Liquor Appeal Board, while those against decisions made by the Commissioner of Police will be heard by the Minister for Home Affairs.


36. A related amendment will be made to Section 20 of the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act to enhance the penalty for the offence of disorderly conduct, and to align it with other offences related to public drunkenness.


VI) Conclusion


37. Madam, to conclude, Singapore is a compact and densely populated city with mixed land use and development, and residential and commercial areas that flow into each other and are in close proximity.  Residents in many areas want a more peaceful and orderly living environment, especially at night, and even on weekends, when they and their families want to rest. In particular, adverse effects of public drunkenness, and the associated disorder and disamenities, are keenly felt by residents of many quarters.  


38. The proposed Liquor Control (Supply and Consumption) Bill will help mitigate the risks to public order and reduce disamenities associated with public drunkenness.  It will bring much needed respite to many residents, and create a safer neighbourhood for all. 


39. Madam Speaker, I beg to move.


[1] COI report, Para128


Law and order