News

Liquor Bill stirs heated debate

The Liquor Control Bill, aimed at regulating the supply and consumption of liquor in public places, was passed in Parliament yesterday. At least 17 MPs questioned its strictness. LINETTE HENG (linheng@sph.com.sg) raises some of their concerns

WHY IS THERE A NEED FOR STRIP SEARCHES?

Non-constituency MP Lina Chiam and Marine Parade GRC MP Tin Pei Ling asked why police and auxiliary police officers are allowed to conduct strip searches during inspections. Mrs Chiam said they "infringe on the modesty of individuals", when a "pat search" is sufficient.

Second Minister for Home Affairs S. Iswaran said that such powers of the police are not new.

"The police have well-established protocols to assess when such an inspection is necessary," he said.

WHY RESTRICT RETAIL HOURS OF TAKEAWAY ALCOHOL TO 10.30PM?

Aljunied GRC MP Sylvia Lim asked if retail hours to buy takeaway alcohol could be extended for those who wish to buy alcohol from shops to drink at home.

Mr Iswaran emphasised the need to restrict retail sales hours for takeaway liquor because public consumption and sales cannot be "de-coupled".

He said: "So you need to start somewhere because those who buy retail sale do not all go home and drink.

"Or at least, there will be a temptation to do other things..."

WHY RESTRICT DRINKING IN PARKS AND BEACHES?

Aljunied GRC MP Pritam Singh said that most people drink responsibly and should not be penalised if they drink at parks which are far away from residential areas.

Non-constituency MP Yee Jenn Jong also asked for figures of alcohol-related crimes in places such as beaches.

If all the other areas around you have restrictions and then you have this "free-drinking zone", the consequences can be quite undesirable, said Mr Iswaran.

But he also assured that enforcement in areas such as East Coast Park will be "calibrated".

WHY RESTRICT DRINKING IN FOREIGN WORKER DORMITORIES?

Some MPs, including Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC MP Hri Kumar Nair and Nee Soon GRC MP Lee Bee Wah, sought to clarify why foreign workers' dormitories are classified as public spaces, which means that these workers might not have a place to drink after 10.30pm.

They were concerned that they were being singled out.

Mr Iswaran said that the classification of foreign worker dormitories as public spaces was a "technical matter" following the newly passed Foreign Employee Dormitories Bill.

The dormitories should be deemed as "public places" solely for the purpose of the provision relating to drunkenness under the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act.

But these workers can still drink in their private quarters, subject to dormitory rules.

HOW WAS THE BILL DRAWN, IN LIGHT OF A SEEMINGLY LACK OF SUPPORT, ESPECIALLY ONLINE?

Several MPs mentioned a Straits Times survey of 9,000 netizens after the first reading of the Bill last week, which showed that more than 77 per cent of respondents were not supportive of the Bill.

In comparison, a survey conducted by Government feedback arm Reach showed that 81 per cent of respondents were supportive.

The Ministry of Home Affairs engaged in a concerted and deliberate consultation with a wide range of stakeholders, including businesses, residents and dormitory owners, before drawing the Bill.

Mr Iswaran said: "The statisticians assured me that the sample size of 1,145 in the Ministry of Communications and Information poll is sufficient for statistically significant conclusions to be drawn,"

Liquor crimes lead to stricter laws

In Parliament yesterday, Second Minister for Home Affairs S. Iswaran provided statistics on the trend of crime associated with alcohol to explain why stricter liquor laws are needed.

Over the last three years, there was an average of 530 cases of persons found to be drunk and incapable in public places.

Last year, there was an average of one rioting incident and two cases of serious hurt each week that was related to alcohol consumption.

Nine out of 10 of such incidents occur after 10.30pm.

A fifth of all rioting cases islandwide occur in Little India and Geylang, which are Liquor Control Zones, and almost half of serious incidents in Geylang and Little India are linked to liquor consumption, which is about twice the national average.

Singaporealcohol