Operators of illegal food premises could have their applications thrown out and be barred from reapplying for six months Restaurants found operating without a licence could have their application for a full licence rejected under a government proposal to tighten controls on food premises. The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department is also considering imposing a six-month ban on filing a licence application for any restaurant convicted of operating illegally. The proposals emerged after about 10 restaurants were found operating without a licence at an upmarket shopping mall in Mongkok last year. At a Legco panel meeting on food safety and environmental hygiene, department director Gregory Leung Wing-lup admitted that the present regulations were not effective, and it could not issue immediate closure orders on restaurants without licences. 'It takes us six to eight months to secure a closure order from court, and restaurants can remain open during the period,' he said. Mr Leung said the proposals would stop restaurants operating without a licence, as their business would be affected if it took them longer to receive a full licence. 'The department can also order restaurants to close if they are posing a threat to public health. For example, we can close a restaurant which is connected to food poisoning cases,' Mr Leung said. But legislators Kwok Ka-ki, Wong Kwok-hing and Andrew Cheng Kar-foo said the proposals were hardly useful. 'I think the proposed regulations fail to protect the public health, as restaurant operators will stay open no matter what. They do not care if it takes longer to apply for a licence,' Mr Cheng said. 'The department should be able to close a restaurant once it is found to be operating without a licence, not wait till food poisoning cases are recorded.' Shanghai Mian, at Langham Place in Mongkok, was ordered to close after it was identified as the source of a food poisoning outbreak last year. It had opened without a licence for six days before it was ordered to close. But Tommy Cheung Yu-yan and Vincent Fang Kang, of the catering and retail industries respectively, said the proposals gave too much power to the department. They urged the government to speed up the application process so restaurant operators could quickly open legally. But Mr Leung said: 'When the industry urges us to give out licences faster, I am surprised that two restaurants at Langham Place in fact did not even file applications.' About 10 out of 35 restaurants at Langham Place had been found operating without licences. Among them were Starbucks Coffee, Pacific Coffee, Italian Tomato Cafe and Curry-in-a-Hurry. Ten restaurants were prosecuted for illegal operation, but some stayed open even after prosecution. The maximum penalty for operating a restaurant without a licence is $50,000, six months' jail and a daily fine of $900.