Last week, the Scottish Government published its “Programme for Government”, setting out its priorities for the next Parliamentary year as well as ongoing projects.

We were delighted to see a commitment to increasing the maximum sentence for some animal cruelty offences to five years.

The new sentencing will be brought about by amending the Animal Health and Welfare Act (Scotland) 2006.

It will cover most animals which are kept as domestic, circus or farm animals, including dogs, cats, snakes, lizards, horses and many others. Currently, the Animal Health and Welfare Act doesn’t include insects.

Unfortunately, a series of animal cruelty cases have demonstrated that longer sentences are necessary. These include the recent Ayrshire Ark case, a disgusting animal “sanctuary” where inspectors discovered dogs with injuries suspiciously like those inflicted in dog fights.

They also include a case where a gecko was killed in a blender, and a case where dog that was tied to a tree, doused with petrol and set on fire – in the latter case the man found guilty was given a longer sentence for burglaries he had committed than the appallingly cruel attack on Bruno, a Staffordshire Bull Terrier Cross.

Not all the cases that are tried under the Animal Health and Welfare Act involve victims of cruel sports – but the League are pleased that many animals are going to be afforded more protection. As well as the new maximum custodial sentence, there will also be fixed penalty notices for minor offences.

And for wild animals? The SNP have a manifesto commitment to implement the Poustie Review, which calls for tougher sentences for those found guilty of wildlife crime. That isn’t scheduled for this year, but we hope it will be in the Programme for Government in 2018.

Other animal welfare measures in this year’s Programme for Government include banning the use of wild animals in circuses, consulting on CCTV in abattoirs, and a commitment to regulate animal welfare shelters and pet vendors. Sadly, the Scottish Government hasn’t committed to banning electric shock collars, only regulating their use.

There’s a lot more that we hope will happen this session, including action on hunting and shooting. But on animal cruelty sentencing, the Scottish Government has taken a big step forward, and we hope that Westminster will follow suit by increasing penalties in England and Wales.