Published: 06 November 2017
1. Mr Speaker, I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a second time".
2. The Massage Establishments Act regulates massage establishments (MEs), by licensing the operators and imposing conditions on their activities.
3. The aim is to prevent MEs from being used for vice activities, or causing law and order problems.
4. MHA has reviewed the ME regulatory regime to ensure that it remains effective in the changing landscape. Under the enhanced regime:
a. We will take tougher action against unlicensed MEs.
b. For licensed MEs, we will take a more calibrated approach.
5. Given the substantial amendments to the Massage Establishment Act, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) will repeal the existing Act and re-enact it. All existing licences granted under the current Act will continue to be in force, but they will be treated as granted under the new Act, and subject to the new regulatory regime.
B. Key Clauses in Bill
B1. Strengthen Levers against Unlicensed MEs
6. I will first explain the provisions to strengthen the Police's levers against unlicensed MEs. We will use a combination of measures to more effectively deter and penalise those who are involved in unlicensed ME operations.
Increase penalties for unlicensed MEs
7. Today, the penalty for unlicensed ME operations is a maximum fine of $1,000. This is grossly insufficient compared to the profits that unlicensed MEs can make, especially by engaging in vice activities.
8. If the unlicensed ME also engages in vice activities, the operator can be liable for additional vice-related offences under the Women's Charter.
Premises closure order
9. The enhanced penalties will ensure that unlicensed ME operators face serious consequences upon conviction.
10. To address such behaviour, Clause 19 will empower the Commissioner of Police to issue a premises closure order.
11. Under Clauses 20 and 21, any person who breaks the lock or enters the premises without prior permission from the Police, will be deemed to have breached the order.
12. The premises closure order is intended to only prevent the continued operation of illegal activities, and will not penalise usage of the premises for legitimate businesses. Clause 19 therefore sets out the circumstances under which the order will be lifted.
13. In addition, under Clause 22, the accused may appeal to the Minister against the Commissioner's premises closure order, but the order will remain in force during the appeal process.
Punish landlords who knowingly lease their premises to unlicensed ME operators
14. The Bill will also deal with the upstream problem of irresponsible landlords who knowingly lease their premises to unlicensed ME operators.
15. We will require landlords to evict tenants who have been convicted of unlicensed ME operations, and provide them with early notice.
16. After the tenant has been convicted of operating an unlicensed ME, under Clause 29, the landlord must require the tenant to hand over possession of the premises within a month.
17. We recognise that some tenants could be difficult to deal with, and may not leave despite the landlord's request. In these cases, the landlord is expected to take the following steps to discharge his obligations under the Bill.
18. Otherwise, the Police will take action against the landlord for the offence of allowing his premises to be used for operating an unlicensed ME under Clause 5. This offence carries the same penalties as the offence of operating an unlicensed ME.
B2. Reduce Regulatory Burden for Compliant Licensed MEs but Take Errant Ones to Task
19. The second set of amendments will refocus the regulatory regime on higher-risk activities, and reduce the regulatory costs on low-risk activities and compliant MEs. At the same time, we will enhance levers and powers available to the Police to deal with errant ME licensees.
Revise definition of "massage"
20. The current definition of "massage or special treatment" under the Massage Establishments Act includes manicure, light treatment for hair removal, fish spas and baby spas.
Keep unsuitable persons out of the massage industry
21. We will also introduce a suite of measures to keep unsuitable persons out of the massage industry.
Expand assessment of licensee suitability to other "relevant persons" in the business
22. Under the current regime, the Licensing Officer assesses the fitness and propriety of an applicant or licensee, when deciding whether to issue or revoke a licence.
23. Under Clauses 7 and 12, MHA will expand this assessment to include other "relevant persons", besides the applicant or licensee, who can influence the decisions of the business.
24. This will reduce the risk of MEs being started or operated by persons who are unfit or improper but are hiding behind a veil of propriety. The Police will publish the criteria and requirements for applicants, licensees and "relevant persons" on their website at a later date.
Suspension powers when licensee or "relevant persons" have been charged for serious offences
25. Under Clause 11, the Licensing Officer can immediately suspend a ME licence when the licensee or a "relevant person" has been charged in Court for serious offences that will be specified in the schedule of the Act.
26. This allows the Police to take immediate action to prevent the licensee from using the ME premises for such serious crimes, without having to wait for the potentially lengthy court proceedings to be concluded.
Powers to grant and cancel approval for ME employees
27. The licensee is also required to seek the Licensing Officer's approval before hiring an employee. Not doing so will be an offence under Clause 13.
28. Employees who are not fit and proper will not be allowed to work in a ME.
29. The licensee or employee may appeal to the Minister against the Licensing Officer's decision, but the decision will remain in force pending the outcome of the appeal.
Enhance the Police's Powers to Take Swift and Effective Action
30. We have also enhanced the Police's powers to take swift and effective action against errant licensees.
Powers to modify licence conditions
31. Clause 10 creates a new provision to allow the Licensing Officer to modify licence conditions, in order to intervene promptly against problems and dis-amenities associated with MEs.
32. Clause 10 prescribes the process for modifying licence conditions, which is straightforward and I will not go into here.
Powers of forced entry
33. The Police have encountered cases where MEs lock their doors to obstruct or delay enforcement.
34. Clause 24 empowers Licensing Officers and Police Officers to enter ME premises using necessary force and without a warrant, if there is reasonable suspicion that offences under the Act are being, or have been, committed within.
Appointment of authorised persons
35. Clause 4 of the Bill allows the Licensing Officer to appoint suitably-trained individuals, such as Auxiliary Police Officers or retired Police Officers, as "authorised persons".
36. Authorised persons will be empowered under Clause 23 to enter and inspect ME premises. Under Clause 26, authorised persons can request for records, accounts, and other information relating to the ME for purposes of compliance checks.
Protection from personal liability
37. Clause 30 protects Licensing Officers, Police Officers and authorised persons from personal liability, as long as they have acted in good faith and executed their duties with reasonable care.
Increase penalties for regulatory breaches
38. Finally, we will also increase the penalties for regulatory breaches, so as to deter and penalise errant licensed operators. The penalty today for all regulatory breaches is a maximum fine of $1,000.
C. Support from Industry
39. As part of the review, MHA consulted the Spa Association Singapore, the Spa & Wellness Association of Singapore, and the Real Estate Developers' Association of Singapore, on the proposed amendments.
40. The industry associations and their members are supportive of the proposals under the Bill. The Bill allows tougher action to be taken against unlicensed operators and errant licensees, who damage the image of the massage industry.
41. Mr Speaker, please allow me to conclude my speech in Mandarin.
42. 这项"按摩院法案"(Massage Establishments Bill) 将授权警方对违法的按摩院业者采取更严厉的执法行动；同时，对于按规矩经营的业者，这项法案也将适度放宽管制。
45. 对于持有经营执照的按摩院，过去的案例明显反映他们犯罪的倾向相对低. 因此, 这项法案将集中管制风险较高的按摩活动，也为此推出几项新的管制措施。比如，为了确保有执照的按摩院都由适当人士经营，警方将不止评估执照申请者和执照持有人是否适宜妥当，也会审核其他幕后的推手。