The Animal and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Bill has been passed unanimously by Scottish Parliament at stage one.
The new legislation, which was debated yesterday (12 March), will increase penalties for the “most serious” animal welfare offences, and provide for fixed penalties in relation to animal welfare offences generally.
If passed in its final stages, maximum penalties for the most serious animal offences will increase to a potential five years in prison, instead of the current 12 month penalty.
The bill will also increase the protection for service animals from “being caused unnecessary suffering”, and increase penalties in relation to certain wildlife offences.
Rural affairs minister, Mairi Gougeon, said that the legislation would “modernise and strengthen the implementation of existing legislation, impacting on animal welfare”.
She said: “Although these extreme cases are rare, as a society and as a government we need to send a strong message that any animal cruelty or wildlife crime will not be tolerated and I hope the publicity around this Bill will start the necessary behaviour changes to banish that cruelty from our society.
“These often traumatic and sadistic offences rightly attract considerable public concern and we’re also concerned about links to serious organised crime, particularly around the illegal trade in puppies.”
She added that current maximum penalties were “simply not high enough” to allow the courts to deal with cases “appropriately”.
Gillian Martin, convener of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, said: “It has been said that the greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.
“Disregarding the health and welfare of animals can make it easier for us to disregard the health and welfare of our fellow humans.”
She added: “It can limit our capacity for empathy, and there are often links between animal abuse and other crimes.
“It is right that the government seeks to increase penalties in line with the grave nature of many of the crimes committed against animals.”