Those who have been found guilty of animal abuse, including pain inflicted on livestock, could face sentences of up to five years.

Currently, the maximum sentence is just six months. But the government is planning to bring forward legislation that will see that increased ten-fold.

The law would extend to apply to all animals under the control of humans.

Environment minister Michael Gove said: “We are a nation of animal lovers so we must ensure that those who commit the most shocking cruelty towards animals face suitably tough punishment.

“These plans will give courts the tools they have requested to deal with the most abhorrent acts. This is one part of our plan to deliver world-leading standards of animal welfare in the years ahead.”

In September it was announced that CCTV cameras would be made mandatory in all slaughterhouses, a move welcomed by animal welfare organisations including the RSPCA.

According to Defra, while there was an average of 1,150 people a year convicted of animal cruelty, fewer than five of these received the maximum current sentence. The new legislation will ensure that those found guilty of the most heinous crimes will face maximum time in jail.

Under the new plans, courts will have the power to hand out an unlimited fine and ban offenders from owing an animal in the future.

A draft legislation for consultation will be published at the turn of the year.