Proposed measures to end public drinking after 10.30pm will allow police to take a "more calibrated approach" to nuisance drinking, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said yesterday.
Even as Monday's introduction of the new Liquor Control (Supply and Consumption) Bill generated heated debate in online forums over its merits, MHA made it clear that those caught drinking during restricted hours will face no further action if they dispose of the alcohol when told to.
Under the Bill, people will not be allowed to drink in public places between 10.30pm and 7am. Retail shops will also have to stop selling alcohol after 10.30pm.
MHA yesterday laid out how police would respond to incidents under the new provisions if they become law. Police will, in the first instance, request that the person dispose of the liquor, a spokesman said. "His particulars will also be taken down. If there is public annoyance, the Bill has a provision that allows the police to advise the person to move on, and leave the place.
If he complies, no further action will be taken."
But if the person ignores the advice or is a repeat offender, the police may consider tougher action, such as issuing a composition fine or even arrest, the spokesman said. A first-time offence will carry a fine of up to $1,000, while repeat offenders could be fined a maximum of $2,000 and may face a jail term of up to three months.
Those who are disorderly or pose a threat to public order and safety may also be arrested.
Mr Edwin Tong, deputy chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Home Affairs and Law, welcomed the measured approach. "This is not a situation whereby at 10.31pm, the police go out and arrest people," the MP for Moulmein-Kallang GRC said. "The idea is to curb unruly drinking in the streets. I hope this (the response by MHA) will give some comfort to people."
Many have hit out at the proposed restrictions, calling them draconian and a "knee-jerk reaction" to the Little India riot on Dec 8, 2013. But others defended the Bill, saying it was a response to longstanding problems of noise and littering, and even fighting, caused by public drinking, including in places frequented by young locals, such as Clarke Quay.
They pointed out that other developed cities have similar regulations, some of which are even stricter, citing places such as Sydney and New York.
There was, however, confusion over the proposed measures, for instance, what counts as a public place. Mr Tong said MHA has to educate the public on the details of the Bill if it is passed. "There should also be a period where the authorities apply a softer touch and raise public awareness, instead of clamping down overnight just because it has become law."
Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean last night posted pictures on his Facebook page of him visiting a coffee shop at Block 435 in Hougang with MP Gan Thiam Poh, and gave the assurance that the proposed laws would not impact places licensed to serve alcohol after 10.30pm.
He wrote: "Uncle you can continue enjoying your beer at the coffee shop as before."
This article was first published on January 21, 2015.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.