A promise of sweeping reforms of Britain's crumbling prison system from British Prime Minister David Cameron was the centrepiece of the Queen's Speech to parliament on Wednesday.

"My government will legislate to reform prisons and courts to give individuals a second chance," Queen Elizabeth II said in an annual address to parliament on the government's legislative plans for the next 12 months.

"Prison governors will be given unprecedented freedom and they will be able to ensure prisoners receive better education," she said, adding that the government would also improve mental health services for people in the criminal justice system.

Other priorities for Cameron's Conservative government are a counter-terrorism bill to "disrupt extremists," measures to liberalize education, and improvements to child care and adoption services, the queen said, listing 20 proposed bills for new legislation.

"My government will use the opportunity of a strengthening economy to deliver security for working people, to increase life chances for the most disadvantaged and to strengthen national defences," she said.

The government will "continue to bring the public finances under control ... and to move to a higher wage and lower welfare economy where work is rewarded," she said, adding that it would promote wider home ownership by supporting the construction of hundreds of thousands of new houses.

Tim Farron, responding to the speech in parliament for the opposition Liberal Democrats, said most of measures in the speech had been announced before and appeared to be a diversion from campaigning ahead of next month's referendum Britain's EU membership.

"The Queen's Speech is a stopgap to give the warring factions of the Tory (Conservative) Party a couple of days' respite from the referendum," Farron said. "It does nothing to address the key issues at stake."

Cameron is campaigning for Britain to remain in the EU, but several other leading Conservatives are supporting the Vote Leave campaign to exit the bloc ahead of the referendum on June 23.

As expected, the Queen's Speech avoided any discussion of the referendum, but mentioned briefly that it would take place.

Responding ahead of the speech to claims that some of Britain's overcrowded prisons have become ungovernable, Cameron said the changes were part of a "clear programme of social reform, so we break down the barriers to opportunity and extend life chances to all."

"And nowhere is that reform needed more than in our prisons," he said.

The Ministry of Justice said the prison reforms are designed to improve public protection by reducing reoffending and cutting crime.

Education for Britain's 85,000 prisoners will be at the centre of the reform programme, the ministry said.

It said education and employment were "critical in reducing reoffending," but just one in four prisoners enters employment after completing a sentence.

Related stories

Latest news

Syrian opposition rules out future role for President al-Assad

The Syrian opposition said Friday it would not accept any role for President Bashar al-Assad in the future of the war-torn country, reacting to a recent US shift saying that removing al-Assad is no longer a priority for Washington.

Russian Army integrates breakaway forces of Georgian province

Parts of the small fighting forces of the Georgian breakaway province of South Ossetia have been placed under Russian military control, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Friday.

Czech Republic's Pilsner Urquell beer is now Japanese

Japanese brewing company Asahi completed its takeover of the Czech brewery Pilsner Urquell on Friday, Asahi said in a statement.

Judge approves 25-million-dollar settlement of Trump University case

A US district judge on Friday approved a 25-million-dollar settlement of lawsuits and state fraud allegations against Trump University, the US president's now-defunct business venture.

Former Thai premier Thaksin to junta on reconciliation: 'Cut me out'

Former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra on Friday announced that he is not interested in the junta-led reconciliation process, three days after the junta handed him a half-a-billion-dollar tax bill for his past business deal.

Dalic: We welcome possible deal between Agrokor and banks

The government welcomes the possibility of an agreement being concluded between the Agrokor food company and creditor banks, and the bill on vitally important companies is not a fallback plan but the result of the government's care for the overall economic and financial stability of Croatia, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economy Martina Dalic told a press conference in Zagreb on Friday.

Croatia, China sign action plan for cooperation in agriculture

The Croatian and Chinese ministries of agriculture on Friday signed an action plan for cooperation in the field of agriculture for the period 2017-2018, the Croatian ministry said in a statement.

ZSE indices up, Agrokor shares in focus of investor interest

The Zagreb Stock Exchange (ZSE) indices on Friday rose by more than 1.8%, with stocks of the Agrokor food and retail concern being in the focus of investor interest again.

Berlin police defend handling of Berlin market attacker

Berlin police defended themselves on Friday against accusations that they stopped surveillance on Berlin Christmas market attacker despite knowing in June 2016 he was dangerous.

Croatia, creditors tailor emergency measures to save tottering giant

Croatia's tottering retail and food giant Agrokor reached an agreement with its creditors, putting its debts standby and allowing it to continue working during emergency restructuring, the Croatian branch of Austria's Erste Bank said Friday.

Agrokor's creditors say standstill agreement to go into force today

A standstill agreement regarding the Agrokor concern's existing financial obligations to banks will take effect on Friday, additional capital will be injected into the concern in the coming days and the concern will be actively restructured, which includes a change of its management, it was said on Friday after a meeting between Agrokor's suppliers and creditor banks.

Palestinians, UN slam Israel's new settlement plan

Palestinians, Israeli activists and the UN lambasted the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday, a day after it gave the go-ahead for the first new West Bank settlement in a quarter of a century.

South Sudan rebels release three abducted foreign oil workers

South Sudanese rebels have released three foreign engineers they abducted in early March in the oil-rich Upper Nile region, Foreign Affairs Ministry official Mawein Makol Arik said on Friday.

Turkish opposition: Imprisoned party chief has gone on hunger strike

The head of Turkey's pro-Kurdish opposition party has launched a hunger strike from prison.

European leagues threaten Champions League schedule clashes

The European Professional Football Leagues (EPFL) on Friday threatened schedule clashes on Champions League matchdays in an ongoing dispute with the governing body UEFA.

Danish court revokes citizenship of IS volunteer

A Danish appellate court on Friday stripped a man of his Danish citizenship for volunteering to fight for the extremist Islamic State in Syria.

Banks and Agrokor agree on key elements of standstill agreement

Member banks of the coordinating committee of financial creditors and representatives of the Agrokor food company have in principle agreed on key elements of a standstill agreement, which is expected to be signed later today, announcing changes in the company's management team, Erste Bank said in a statement on Friday afternoon.

Syrian man on trial in Sweden; mosque attack labelled terrorism

A Syrian man went on trial Friday in the southern Swedish city of Malmo, charged with terrorism and arson after an attack last year on a building used as an assembly hall by Shiite Muslims.