A suggestion by a leading police officer that people should be charged at a premium rate to make 999 calls has been criticised.
David Hamilton, secretary of the Tayside branch of the Scottish Police Federation, said it could be a way of reducing unnecessary calls. But one politician said the idea is "ludicrous" and others said it could discourage people from seeking help.
Mr Hamilton, whose branch represents about 1,200 officers, said anyone experiencing a "genuine emergency" would spend 50p to report it. "If we were to charge premium rates, people would be less likely to use 999 and then you would get people who only need it for real emergencies," he told The Courier newspaper.
"People might say you can't charge this as it's a public service, but control staff are getting tied up. My comments put the topic into the mix and it's a way of doing something about it."
He first raised the issue in a message posted on Twitter, asking: "Maybe time to make 999 a premium rate number? If a genuine emergency you'd spend 50p to report it. Phoneboxes exempt." Reacting later to criticism and other feedback online, he said he was questioning the current situation and level of inappropriate calls. "For clarity I haven't proposed anything. Inappropriate 999s a UK prob," he added on Twitter.
Holyrood politicians said charging is not the answer. Labour MSP Lewis Macdonald said: "Hoax and unnecessary calls to our emergency services are foolish, life-threatening and frustrating for those who have to answer them. But charging people 50p a time isn't the answer. Someone in danger shouldn't need to worry about whether they have enough credit to speak to the emergency services. What's more, these calls are free in all EU countries.
"So we need to look at how we can prevent nuisance calls, rather than try to stop people calling in the first place. Let's educate people about the consequences of making unnecessary 999 calls and where someone makes nuisance calls, then the strongest measures should be taken against them."
Conservative justice spokesman David McLetchie said: "We certainly don't want to discourage people from reporting crimes to the police, or incidents to any other emergency service, but that's what this proposal would do. Unfortunately, nuisance calls are part and parcel of dealing with emergencies and even if only a small proportion of calls lead to the detection of a crime, who is to say that's not worthwhile?"
Liberal Democrat justice spokeswoman Alison McInnes said: "Frankly this is a ludicrous suggestion. If even one young woman or elderly person was put off seeking urgent assistance because they did not have enough credit on their phone, it would be one too many. Has Mr Hamilton really lost sight of the reason for the 999 number?"
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said charging for 999 calls is a matter for emergency services and telecom companies, adding: "It is essential that access to emergency services is available and not abused. We would urge the public to only dial 999 in a genuine emergency and charging for calls to 999 could potentially jeopardise public safety."