A leading police officer in Scotland has suggested charging people a premium rate to dial 999 in an attempt to cut costs and the volume of calls.
Anyone experiencing a "genuine emergency" would spend 50p to report it, according to David Hamilton, secretary of the Tayside branch of the Scottish Police Federation, which represents about 1,200 officers.
The suggestion was prompted by his experience in the police control room.
"If we were charged 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."
Lewis Macdonald, a North East Labour MSP, 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? Tayside Police have a non-emergency number and raising awareness of that is surely the sensible way to reduce unnecessary 999 calls."