Howard to jail foreign dissidents

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Foreign dissidents plotting in Britain could be imprisoned under a law being prepared by the Home Office. It would outlaw conspiracy or incitement to "substantive acts" abroad: this could silence the modern Saudi dissident Mohammed al Masari - but would also have snared such historic London-based subversives as Lenin.

The Home Secretary, Michael Howard, is determined to close a loophole in British law which has allowed Mr Masari to wage a campaign by fax machine from Britain for the violent overthrow of the Saudi royal family.

Mr Masari's continued presence in Britain has been embarrassing for the Government, which is keen to maintain friendly relations with the Saudis, to preserve pounds 20bn of arms sales and protect jobs in Britain. The Saudis protested at his activities but stopped short of cancelling the defence contracts after an intensive diplomatic effort.

The Independent has learned that the anti-subversive legislation is being drawn up as one of eight Home Office bills to be introduced as backbench legislation by some of the 20 MPs whose names were drawn out in the ballot for the right to introduce Private Member's bills.

The Saudi dissident has been a thorn in Mr Howard's flesh since successfully fighting an attempt by the Home Secretary to have him deported to the Caribbean island of Dominica. Mr Howard was forced to make a hasty U-turn following a high court ruling that he had circumvented the UN Convention on Refugees for "diplomatic and trade reasons". Mr Howard gave Mr Masari leave to remain in Britain for two years.

The case for action to prevent dissidents using London as a base was raised in the review of anti-terrorist legislation in a report last week by Lord Lloyd, a senior law lord, who said: "The UK, together with some other Western countries, is particularly liable to be caught up in these struggles because of the numbers of ... foreign nationals who live or seek sanctuary here."

The Home Office is expected to have a record eight bills in the list for Private Member's legislation. Other measures include powers to test prisoners in jail for alcohol and a bill to carry out DNA-profiling of all convicted prisoners serving sentences for sex or violent crimes.

The police will be given power to seize alcoholic drinks held by people under 16. The Public Entertainment Licences Bill will give courts new powers to close clubs where there is police evidence of drugs.

Another bill will remove the police from the health and safety at work regulations. The police also will be given permission to keep property which has been lost, stolen or seized, if it cannot be returned to the owners. Under existing rules, stolen property has to be sold off, but the police will have the power to keep it, if it can be used, or give it to charity.