Singapore liquor control bill passed into law

Singapore liquor control bill passed into law

Singapore's Parliament on Friday passed a bill that will ban retail sales and public drinking from 10.30pm to 7am islandwide into law. The law is expected to take effect in April.

"This bill is timely, long overdue and... will bring relief to residents in various localities who have been enduring disorder and disturbances arising from irresponsible liquor consumption in their neighbourhoods," said Second Minister for Home Affairs S Iswaran, who rounded up the parliamentary debate on the bill on Friday afternoon.

In the debate, MPs expressed concerns that reflected the divisive nature of public response to it.

Opposition Workers' Party MPs Pritam Singh and Sylvia Lim asked if the terms of the legislation were too far-reaching, suggesting it may be better to allow takeaway sales to continue after-hours. Non-constituency MP Yee Jenn Jong also suggested relaxing restrictions on areas located further from residential areas like parks and beaches with public barbecue pits.

Tampines GRC MP Baey Yam Keng said many netizens found the ban "regressive" for a mature society.

"Singaporeans do not have a drinking problem," he said. "To deal with (a) minority who create trouble, the bill is taking pre-emptive measures seven steps upstream," he added.

Concerns about foreign worker dorms addressed

MPs like Hri Kumar Nair, Foo Mee Har, Yee Jenn Jong, Lina Chiam and Lee Bee Wah said the bill unfairly targets foreign workers in its definition of foreign worker dormitories as a public space. Addressing their concerns, Iswaran said the private quarters and beer gardens of the dorms will not be covered by the new law.

Instead, the definition of foreign worker dormitories as public spaces was what he deemed a "technical" one in light of the recently-passed Foreign Worker Dormitories Bill.

"The amendment does not turn dormitories into public places, neither does it forbid workers from consuming liquor within the foreign worker dormitories. Workers can continue to drink in their private quarters according to whatever rules they have in their dorms," he said. "It will not unduly constrain foreign workers in the dorms."

Mere possession of liquor is not an offence, he added, responding to concerns raised by those who were concerned about the additional police powers given in the new law, which allow arrests without warrant.

"It is not our intent to restrict people from enjoying liquor per se, but to encourage personal responsibility and considerate behaviour," said Iswaran. "Police will focus their enforcement on areas where there are public disorder and disamenities associated with the consumption of liquor and take even-handed action. It is certainly not the intent of this bill to seek out every person who's consuming liquor peacefully in a remote place... Should the police encounter such circumstances, they will assess each situation very carefully and will not resort to issue penalties, whether it's fines or arrests, in the first instance."

Read more about the details of the new Liquor Control law here.