THE Tories have accused the Scottish Government of dragging its feet over plans to introduce tougher sentences for animal cruelty.

Plans to increase the maximum penalty for thugs who attack pets was announced last year in the programme for government. But the Tories said ministers were taking their time to deliver that promise.

The Scottish Government pointed out that the punishment here was still more than it was in England.

Currently, Scotland has one of the lowest sentences for animal cruelty in Europe, with offenders given just 12 months in prison plus a fine and a ban on keeping animals.

Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, who last year launched a campaign calling for tougher sentences, pointed out that 12 months for the worst act of animal cruelty “compares badly with five years for crimes such as fly tipping or theft”.

In 2015-16, the Scottish SPCA received 246,964 calls to its animal helpline, and 81 offenders were convicted of cruelty and welfare offences under the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006.

Last year, Nicola Sturgeon said ministers were preparing to amend that act “to increase the maximum penalty for the most serious cruelty offences to five years’ imprisonment as well as allowing fixed penalty notices for lesser offences”.

But the Tories say no progress has been made, and pointed to proposals from the UK government to impose unlimited fines and longer custodial sentences.

The party’s spokesman on animal welfare, Finlay Carson, said unless the Scottish Government moved quicker, then his party would seek to bring similar legislation through Holyrood.

“Scotland is lagging badly when it comes to the protection of animals,” Carson said.

“The SNP has dragged its feet, and it means those convicted of cruelty against animals like cats and dogs are more or less getting off the hook – there’s very little to deter them at present.

“That’s why we need to at least match the five-year maximum term being legislated for in England, and go further when it comes to education and tackling problems like illegal puppy farming.

“Nicola Sturgeon indicated this is something she wanted to do in her Programme for Government. But we’re now many months on from that, and time is running out to get things going in parliament.

“If ministers don’t bring forward plans to address this, we will, and use the opposition majority in parliament to get it through.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Since 2006, the maximum sentence for cruelty to animals in Scotland has been twelve months and a £20,000 fine. The maximum in England and Wales is only six months and a £5000 fine.

“Scotland is leading the UK in driving up standards of animal welfare. We have already committed to increase the maximum sentence in cruelty cases, banned the use of wild animals in travelling circuses, and are introducing a licensing scheme for animal sanctuaries and rehoming centres.”

Fife man Craig Mill was sentenced to eight months in 2016 for biting and striking his pet cat, Pippa.

The two-year-old cat was so badly injured she had to be put down. The Sheriff in was forced to reduce the maximum 12 month sentence because Mill pleaded guilty.