A bill to improve fire safety in karaoke bars with a statutory licensing system was proposed yesterday, three years after a blaze killed 17 people in a Tsim Sha Tsui lounge. The bill will bring all establishments providing karaoke facilities, including those attached to restaurants, under the control of a licensing scheme. It will require all karaoke lounges to have partition walls separating cubicles from the main corridors and for the walls to have a minimum fireproof capability of one hour. It will also limit seating capacity. 'This requirement is essential to allow time for customers to escape or for firemen to gain access to the establishment,' a government spokesman said. Existing karaoke bars will have a grace period of 12 months. Bona fide restaurants serving food and drink as their main business with karaoke cubicles not exceeding 30 per cent of total seating area will be exempt. The Hong Kong Association for the Rights of Karaoke Entertainment and Catering Business spokesman Chan Chi-kit urged the Government to be more flexible. 'We had no idea what the legislation would be when we invested in the business,' he said. 'It is unfair to force us to comply with this very strict legislation; the Government should be more flexible.' The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department will be the licensing authority for karaoke areas in restaurants or in premises serving light refreshment. Karaoke areas attached to hotels or clubs will be licensed by the Home Affairs Bureau. Mr Chan said the arrangement was 'very complicated and inconvenient' and that only one department should be involved. The Karaoke Establishments Bill will be gazetted tomorrow and introduced in Legco on Wednesday. After the fire at Top One Karaoke in January 1997, an inter-departmental working group was set up to co-ordinate stricter regulation.