Islandwide curbs on late-night public drinking and the sale of alcohol are not to stop people from enjoying liquor.
Instead, they are meant to tackle troublemakers and serious alcohol-related offences, said Second Minister for Home Affairs S. Iswaran.
He highlighted that over the last three years, there was on average one rioting incident and two cases of serious hurt that involved liquor each week. "And the trend has been on the rise."
He revealed these numbers yesterday, when the landmark Liquor Control (Supply and Consumption) Bill was passed after a spirited three-hour debate.
The new laws, which are expected to take effect on April 1, make it illegal to drink in public places, including void decks and parks, from 10.30pm to 7am. The takeaway sale of alcohol from 10.30pm will also be banned.
Little India and Geylang will be designated as Liquor Control Zones, with stricter restrictions.
The 17 MPs who spoke, including those from the Workers' Party, widely supported the Bill, with only Non-Constituency MP Lina Chiam failing to back it. Several said it was unfair for residents to put up with noise, broken bottles, vomit and the smell of urine caused by irresponsible drinkers.
But at the same time, there was a recognition that the new laws are an imposition on personal freedom. It was pointed out that the retail curbs could force smaller shops out of business.
Some questioned whether the powers given to the police, such as the right to make a person take off his clothes to check for containers of alcohol, were too much.
But Mr Iswaran assured the House that the police will be measured in their approach and will focus enforcement on areas where there are public disorder issues.
"It is certainly not the intent of this Bill to seek out every person who is consuming liquor peacefully in a remote place," he said, describing the laws as balanced and reasonable.
He revealed that last year, there were 47 cases of rioting linked to the consumption of liquor. There were also 115 cases of serious hurt, which were related to drinking. These cases included stabbing, cutting using dangerous weapons, and inflicting severe bodily pain. "The incidents occurred across the island, with nine out of 10 occurring after 10.30pm," said Mr Iswaran.
Up to half of the serious incidents in Geylang and Little India were also linked to liquor consumption, about twice the national average, he added.
"Also, over the last three years, there was an average of 530 cases of persons found to be drunk and incapable in public places."
He said these numbers do not take into account the "many cases" of noise and other disturbances, which are often unreported.
Yes, Mr Iswaran admitted, some businesses will be hit. But the Government will work with them to ease their pain. He pointed out that shops can apply to sell alcohol after 10.30pm, with extensions granted case by case.
He also clarified several issues. Condominiums will not be considered public places, so people can, for instance, drink by the pool after 10.30pm.
And while workers' dormitories are considered public places, they will still be free to drink in their quarters, as long as permitted by their dorm operators.
As to why the new curbs did not simply target specific places with alcohol-related complaints, Mr Iswaran said this will only push the problem to other areas.
This article was first published on January 31, 2015.
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