New wildlife laws should make more crimes against animals subject to tougher punishment, Scottish Labour has said.
The Scottish Government has proposed legislation increasing the penalties for the worst animal welfare crimes, with offenders facing up to five years in jail and unlimited fines.
But Scottish Labour has urged the government to go further and is calling for offences such as mutilation, cruel operations, poisons, and abandonment to be subject to the maximum punishments.
The Scottish Greens are also calling for landowners to be made responsible for damage to badger setts and giving the Scottish Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals “real teeth” to tackle wildlife crime.
The Animal and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Bill, which was passed unanimously at stage one in March, would enable emergency re-homing of pets and introduce Finn’s Law – named after a police dog stabbed while trying to protect his handler – into legislation to protect service animals.
Rural affairs minister Mairi Gougeon said at the time the legislation would “modernise and strengthen the implementation of existing legislation, impacting on animal welfare”.
She added: “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.”
Ahead of the Environment Committee considering the Bill at stage two on Tuesday, Scottish Labour’s animal welfare spokeswoman Claudia Beamish called for increased penalties for those knowingly destroying animal breeding and resting sites, and for possessing dangerous illegal pesticides.
Mrs Beamish said she was “determined to see this bill strengthened with real deterrents” to animal and wildlife crimes.
She added: “The deliberate destruction of shelters and breeding places is equally deserving of heavy penalties as direct harm to the protected birds and wildlife, as the result of this crime can be just as fatal.
“Where appropriate, restorative justice and empathy training programmes could make a real difference by giving offenders a true understanding of the impact of their crime, in protecting Scotland’s animals from repeat offenders.”
If passed, the Scottish Labour amendments would also make landowners accountable for wildlife crimes committed on their land, and give guidance to courts to allow restorative justice as an option for offenders.
Commenting on the amendments, Colin Smyth MSP said: “This Bill is a step in the right direction, but Scottish Labour has listened to calls from animal welfare charities that it does not go far enough.
“In its current form, some of the most heinous crimes against animals such as poisoning and mutilation will still carry far too light a sentence and that is a loophole that must be closed.
“All animals are sentient – and cruelty to animals should be treated as a serious crime with serious consequences.”
An amendment by Scottish Green MSP Mark Ruskell will also seek to make landowners responsible for damage to badger setts, as well as using restorative justice for people who are charged with animal cruelty.
Mr Ruskell said: “My proposals could give this Bill real teeth by giving the SSPCA the powers they need to investigate wildlife crime.
“Currently the service cannot gather evidence to prosecute these crimes, even when they know about them. That’s ridiculous.
“Their officers need to be empowered to help the police to catch perpetrators of wildlife crime, especially when so many of these crimes in Scotland never even reach court.
“I’m hopeful ministers will take these positive recommendations on board and act within the timescale of the Bill, so that we can improve the detection and conviction rate of crimes against wildlife in Scotland.”