MASSAGE parlours in Scotland's capital have been raided in the first clampdown on so-called "accepted" prostitution in Scotland since the new single police force was established.

Brothels were targeted by 150 Police Scotland East Division officers, who accompanied social workers to help potential victims. They swooped in an unprecedented push after concerns about lax licensing laws in Edinburgh.

Customers and employees were taken onto the street and questioned at seven saunas and 11 associated addresses.

Police said 30 women of various nationalities were interviewed in relation to prostitution and officers are pursuing inquiries relating to several serious sexual offences.

In a statement, police said: "Three people in locations in Edinburgh and Fife have been charged with drugs offences, including supply and cultivation, and it is estimated that assets worth in excess of £500,000 have been seized.

"Large amounts of cash, electronic equipment and documentation relating to business matters have been recovered."

Marilyne MacLaren, an Edinburgh-based former councillor who has campaigned on women's issues, said help was needed for vulnerable women caught up in the raids.

Mrs MacLaren said: "This is an issue that has not yet been addressed but is very close to my heart.

"The foremost issue is taking care of the vulnerable people we are talking about. There is a serious concern about health and safety and drugs issues that have to be addressed, but alienating these vulnerable women will not help."

Since the country's eight forces came under the single Police Scotland umbrella, regional variations in policy have surfaced, creating legal problems.

Edinburgh's apparent sanctioning of prostitution had created a climate whereby city officials had to defend perceived leniency on the practice.

The city council said it would act under licensing legislation if criminality were found after the investigations following the raids.

A massage parlour in the city's Dundas Street and one in the Roseburn area were among those targeted by police in the operation.

Women and men were moved outdoors at the New Town Sauna as forensic experts carried out an investigation that encompassed health and safety issues.

Police Scotland said it had acted on information provided.

The saunas have their advocates as they are said to provide some protection for women. One senior council source said there was a view that the relative safety provided inside saunas was significant.

A Police Scotland spokesman said: "We are carrying out a number of intelligence-led searches and inspections at licensed premises and associated addresses across Edinburgh.

"The activity, which is being carried out in partnership with a number of agencies, is part of the force's commitment to keeping people safe.

"Any offences detected during these searches will be appropriately dealt with."

A spokesman from Edinburgh City Council said: "As is always the case, we will take appropriate action when we receive reports from the police about any criminality on licensed premises."

Joanna Mowat, a Conservative councillor in Edinburgh, has spoken of her concern at the council's approach.

She said: "If we are going to tolerate the licensing of brothels, which is essentially what we do, perhaps we should actually license brothels, and part of the regulation would be to ensure that the girls – or men – are not trafficked, that they are tested, and that they have access to medical support."

Another threat to Edinburgh's tolerance towards saunas could come from Labour Highlands and Islands MSP Rhoda Grant, who has proposed a bill at Holyrood to criminalise the purchase of sex.