The Queen talks extremism and prison reform in Britain's parliament

Story highlights

  • Britain's Queen Elizabeth II takes a member of parliament hostage in her palace
  • The UK government expected to try to rally support for an unpopular surveillance bill

London (CNN)Britain's Queen Elizabeth II took a member of parliament hostage in her palace today before speaking in parliament to deliver the annual Queen's Speech. If the 90-year-old monarch returns home in one piece, her hostage will be freed.

It is just one of many centuries-old traditions surrounding the event to mark the start of the parliamentary year, in which Her Majesty delivers a speech written by the government, outlining its agenda.
    Sitting on a throne in parliament's upper House of Lords, the bejeweled Queen sported a diamond-studded crown as she delivered the Conservative-led government's vision, highlighting a radical shake-up of its aging prison system as its centerpiece.
    The prison system has previously been criticized as a burden on the state budget, and too focused on punishment rather than reform.
    "Prison governors will be given unprecedented freedom and they will be able to ensure prisoners receive better education. Old and inefficient prisons will be closed and new institutions built where prisoners can be put more effectively to work," the Queen said.
    Cameron described the speech as a "One Nation" speech from a "One Nation government," claiming to set out a program of social reform.
    On extremism, the Conservatives want to give authorities power to close premises being used for extremists purposes, which could include mosques, and to gag those spreading hate speech, including broadcasters and other media disseminating extremist content.
    Home Secretary Theresa May is also expected to launch a review of the Islamic Sharia courts springing up in parts of the country.
    The Queen made an allusion to drones and driverless cars, saying her ministers would ensure that Britain was is "at the forefront of technology for new forms of transport, including autonomous and electric vehicles."
    The government's agenda will be deliberated in parliament later today, etched out across more than 20 bills. But one issue is expected to dominate -- the EU Referendum.
    The government will be doing all it can to avoid discussion on the June 23 vote, in which the British people will decide whether to remain part of the European Union or to strike out on its own.
    The issue has been a thorn in Cameron's side, as he essentially promised the vote to win the last election, though he is campaigning to stay in the EU without the full support of his own party.
    It is unclear whether the Conservatives will push to repeal the Human Rights Act, an instrument of the 47-nation Council of Europe, and tout its own British Bill of Rights, which Cameron first flagged six years ago.
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    Activists say repealing the act is a brazen attempt to strip citizens of basic rights, while the government claims it is aimed at reducing the power of European judge in British matters.
    The Conservatives previously announced plans to make cuts to the welfare system, cutting £12 billion ($17.3 billion) from benefits, which include capping the amount people can receive, and freezing tax credits and child benefits.
    The plans were met by fierce opposition by the Labour Party, and was dubbed as unachievable by some economists.
    The government will try and rally support for an investigatory bill, also known as the "Snoopers Charter" for the sweeping spying powers it gives to authorities, allowing them to hack into civilians' phones and other devices.
    The bill was shot down in 2013 by then-deputy prime minister and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, who saw it as an unnecessary breach of civilian privacy rights. But the government is persistent in trying to push the bill through parliament with some revisions.
    But the Conservatives are hoping to keep the focus on its prison reform bill, which includes pilot programs in which some prisoners will be required to go to prison only on weekends. They will be tagged and monitored by satellite for the rest of the week.
    "So today, we start the long-overdue, long-needed change that our prisons need," Cameron said in a statement.
    "No longer will they be warehouses for criminals; they will now be places where lives are changed."
    The Queen will head back to Buckingham Palace, and her hostage will be returned, unharmed.