Increased animal cruelty penalties and new legal protections for service animals have been finally approved by MSPs.

The Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Bill passed its stage 3 vote in the Scottish Parliament yesterday evening, after a lengthy and at times contentious debate that saw a number of late amendments passed, some of them against SNP opposition.

The bill will increase the maximum penalty for the most serious animal and wildlife crimes to five years' imprisonment and an unlimited fine. It also introduces "Finn's law", a new legal protection for service animals such as police dogs and horses, by removing a defence of self-defence for attacks on service animals in the course of their duties.

Animal welfare enforcement agencies will be given new powers, allowing animals taken into their care to be quickly rehomed without the need for a court order.

Among the amendments defeated was one to restore the full ban on the docking of all dogs' tails. However MSPs agreed that there should be a licensing regime for the culling of mountain hares. 

An independently-chaired taskforce will start work this summer to consider whether the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals should be given extra powers to investigate wildlife crime, following a Scottish Government commitment on the matter during Parliament’s consideration of the bill.