Following is the speech by the Acting Secretary for Security, Mr Raymond Wong in moving the second reading of the Karaoke Establishments Bill in the Legislative Council today (March 15):
I move that the Karaoke Establishments Bill be read the second time. The Bill seeks to improve fire and building safety in karaoke establishments by providing for licensing control of these premises.
At present, there is no specific control of karaoke establishments, other than some general requirements applicable to the premises in which they are located. For example, as some of the karaoke establishments also serve food and drinks or are attached to clubs or hotels, they are subject to different regulatory controls if:
(I) the karaoke business is conducted in a place licensed as a general restaurant or light refreshment restaurant under the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance, or is operated with a liquor licence under the Dutiable Commodities (Liquor) Regulations; or
(II) the karaoke business is conducted within a clubhouse licensed under the Clubs (Safety of Premises) Ordinance, or within a hotel or guesthouse licensed under the Hotel and Guesthouse Accommodation Ordinance.
If a karaoke establishment does not operate as any of the above, it is neither subject to any legislative control nor required to provide any fire safety and public safety measures. As long as it holds a simple business registration certificate, it can conduct this kind of public entertainment business.
Without proper fire safety structures and installations, the fire hazard of a karaoke establishment is by no means negligible in light of the unique characteristics of its operations. In general, the alertness of the customers may be affected by the consumption of alcoholic drinks or loud music inside the premises. The layout of small clustered cubicles accessed through long and narrow passages will make escape difficult in case of fire. General fire safety provisions cannot adequately address the fire risk associated with the special closed-cubicle layout and unique mode of operation of karaoke establishments. Therefore, we must introduce a set of prescribed minimum standards through a statutory licensing system to ensure that proper fire and public safety measures are provided in these establishments.
We propose that all establishments providing karaoke facilities, whether attached to restaurants or other licensed premises, should be brought under the control of a licensing scheme administered by a licensing authority, i.e. all karaoke establishments should be required to obtain a licence or permit for their operations. However, bona fide restaurants will be exempted from the licence requirement. By definition, a bona fide restaurant is one serving food and drinks as its main business with the aggregate area of all karaoke cubicles not exceeding 30% of its total seating area, and the number of karaoke cubicles not exceeding its total seating area divided by 100 square metres.
The licensing authority will adopt a pragmatic approach in implementing the new licensing scheme. In vetting an application from an existing karaoke establishment which has already been granted a separate licence for the purpose of, for example, restaurant, club, hotel or guesthouse, the authority will streamline the licence processing procedures and reduce the scope of regulatory control by only requiring the applicant to comply with the additional fire safety measures specific to the special layout and operation of the premises. For karaoke establishments in restaurants or premises serving light refreshment, the Director of Food and Environmental Hygiene will act as the licensing authority. For other karaoke establishments, including those attached to hotels or clubs, the Secretary for Home Affairs will be the licensing authority. The "one-stop" approach of placing the licensing responsibility for the same type of premises under the same authority should help avoid duplication of efforts as well as streamline the licence processing procedures so that karaoke establishment operators will obtain the required licences as early as possible.
An applicant for a karaoke licence will be required to meet prescribed fire safety, building safety, public safety and health requirements. However, for existing karaoke establishments, a transitional licence or permit with a grace period of 12 months will be granted to allow time for compliance work. The transitional licence or permit may be extended for a period up to 12 months, if necessary.
To operate a karaoke business without a licence or permit is an offence punishable by law. The licensing authority may issue a direction if a licensee fails to comply with the licensing conditions. The authority may further apply to the District Court for a closure order and prohibit the continuation of business in the premises if the operator fails to comply with the direction.
We conducted a three-month public consultation on the proposed licensing scheme from February to May 1998. The general public and the trade concerned were generally supportive of our objective to improve fire and public safety of karaoke establishments. We continued our discussions with those in the trade and, in response to their requests, refined certain fire safety structure requirements to minimise the financial impact, while maintaining our objective to improve fire safety in karaoke establishments. For example, existing karaoke establishments will not be required to widen the corridor width to 1.2 metres if basic fire safety measures have been installed; dead-end situations might be tolerated subject to additional fire safety provisions as may be required by the authority; and as requested by the trade, the aggregate area of corridors will be excluded in calculating the population capacity permitted of the premises. However, after careful consideration, we do not consider it proper to further relax the requirement that partition walls separating the cubicles from the main corridors within a karaoke establishment should have a fire-resistant capability of at least one hour. The one-hour requirement is already the minimum standard for necessary protection of a fire escape route. In case of fire, the fire-resistant partition walls will serve to keep the fire from spreading quickly, so as to allow time for customers to escape and facilitate firemen's fire-fighting and rescue work.
We consulted the two Provisional Municipal Councils on the licensing scheme in late 1998 and early 1999, while the Legislative Council Panel on Security was briefed in January 1999.
I hope Members will support the above proposal and pass the Bill at an early date. We will give wide publicity to the provisions of the Bill and the licensing conditions so as to facilitate the trade's familiarization and preparation.
Madam President, with these remarks, I beg to move.
End/Wednesday, March 15, 2000