Scotland will be one of the first countries in the world to criminalise psychological abuse, with Justice Secretary Michael Matheson condemning the "pernicious, coercive and controlling behaviour" of perpetrators.

He told MSPs of some of the "horrendous" types of behaviour victims can be forced to endure - but which cannot currently be prosecuted by the courts.

The Scottish Government is bringing in a new Domestic Abuse Bill, with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon having included the legislation in her programme for government.

This will create a specific offence of "abusive behaviour in relation to a partner or ex-partner" and will also include proposals to ensure psychological abuse, such as coercive and controlling behaviour, can be effectively prosecuted.

Mr Matheson said perpetrators "may not necessarily use physical violence against their partner or even overt threats", but they could "behave in a highly-controlling, abusive way over a long period of time".

The Justice Secretary continued: "Examples of what abusers may do to humiliate their partners are horrendous.

"For example, abusers may force them to eat food off the floor, control access to the toilet, repeatedly put them down and tell them they are worthless.

"Abusers also try to control every aspect of their partner's life, by, for example, preventing them from attending work or college, stopping them making contact with family or friends, giving them no or limited access to money, checking or controlling their use of their phone and social media."

He said where this behaviour is not accompanied by physical violence or overt threats, "which can often be the case", it could currently be "very difficult to prosecute".

Mr Matheson said: "A perpetrator may have subjected their partner to years of abuse but may only have been convicted of a single instance of assault or threatening and abusive behaviour."

He stressed the new law would not inadvertently criminalise "ordinary arguments and friction that may occur in many relationships".

Ministers are also "considering very carefully" how the proposals could be changed to reflect the impact of such abuse on children who are "in effect secondary victims of partner abuse".

Benefits of the new proposals include "providing clarity for victims" and "sending a clear signal that what their partners or ex partners have done to them is not only wrong but criminal", Mr Matheson said

"It's not only physical violence but also psychological abuse - exerting total control over your partner's every movement and action, forcing your partner to live in constant fear - is criminal and unacceptable in our society."

Police Scotland recorded almost 60,000 cases of domestic abuse in 2014-15 - with the majority (79%) of cases involving a male perpetrator and a female victim.

Tory MSP Douglas Ross said domestic abuse is a "monstrous and multi-faceted crime", adding that "destructive effects can continue to reverberate long after the abuse has come to an end".

He said: "The message must ring out loudly and unequivocally, clearly, from the debate that in our modern society physical and psychological abuse will not be tolerated."

He raised concerns that a senior figure in the Crown Office had told MSPs it was better for domestic abuse to be an aggravating factor in cases than for a separate offence of domestic abuse to be created.

"We have to ensure we get this right, it is an important piece of legislation that people will be looking at for many years to come," the Conservative said.

Labour's Claire Baker said: "We are in principle very supportive of introducing the new offence and and of the intention to include those who commit psychological abuse and engage in coercive and controlling behaviour.

"While the majority of cases are a male perpetrator and a female victim, the law will provide protection for all adults in intimate relationships."

She urged the Scottish Government to "learn any lessons" from England and Wales, where similar legislation has already been introduced.

Ms Baker also raised concerns that while crime in general is at a 40-year low, cases of domestic abuse are rising, with the latest figures showing a 2.5% increase.

The Labour MSP said: "I accept the improvements in police response, increased awareness and improved reporting, and the presumption towards prosecution, all provide some explanation towards this, but when other crimes are on a downwards trajectory we all want to see domestic abuse going the same way."

Children's Commissioner Tam Baillie also welcomed the changes but said there needed to be a "consistent response" to help youngsters affected by abuse.

He said: "I welcome the progress made in Scotland to strengthen our response to domestic abuse - and the proposals under debate in the Scottish Parliament are another step on the way.

"We still live in a society which is too tolerant of abusive behaviour and the time has come to demonstrate resolve in changing attitudes and behaviours towards women, who are most frequently the target of abuse.

"We know that there are tens of thousands of children affected by domestic abuse each year, situations which can have an impact on their social, emotional and cognitive development.

"We need more consistent response to the plight of these children caught in traumatising circumstances."