One of the Riksdag’s principal tasks is to examine the work of the Government and the public agencies. This scrutiny is known as parliamentary control.
The various instruments of parliamentary control are set out in Sweden's Constitution:
- The Committee on the Constitution has a special task to ensure that the Government observes existing regulations. All members of the Riksdag have the right to report Government ministers to the Committee on the Constitution.
- All members of the Riksdag have the right to address questions to the Government. This is one of the ways in which the Riksdag is able to monitor the Government's actions.
- If the Riksdag no longer has confidence in a minister or in the Prime Minister, it can decide to make a declaration of no confidence.
- It is the task of the Parliamentary Ombudsmen to ensure that all members of the public are treated in compliance with existing laws in their dealings with public agencies. The Office of the Parliamentary Ombudsmen is an authority under the Riksdag.
- The National Audit Office examines what central government funds are used for and how efficiently they are used. The National Audit Office is an authority under the Riksdag.
Parliamentary control is a fundamental precondition for a democratic system of parliamentary government. Parliamentary government is founded on the fact that the Government must have the support of the Riksdag or at least be accepted by the Riksdag for it to be able to govern. By scrutinising the Government, the Riksdag can more easily determine whether it accepts the Government.
Parliamentary control is designed to help the Government and public agencies to work in an efficient manner, in conformity with the rule of law, and to help citizens feel that they can trust the way in which the public agencies exercise their powers.
Two examinations by the Committee on the Constitution
Each year, the Committee on the Constitution examines the Government to ascertain whether it has observed current rules in the handling of Government business. The Committee on the Constitution carries out two such examinations per year. The first involves ensuring that the ministers have complied with the rules that regulate the work of the Government, and that their behaviour has been appropriate in other ways. This is known as a special examination and is based on reports from members of the Riksdag when they consider that a minister has acted inappropriately and want the Committee on the Constitution to examine the matter more closely.
The second examination is known as a general examination and is focused on administrative matters. The Committee on the Constitution scrutinises various documents, for example from the Government Offices, to ensure that the Government has complied with existing laws and established practice in its handling of Government business.
Reports to the Committee on the Constitution
Members of the Riksdag can report instances of what they consider to be inappropriate behaviour to the Committee on the Constitution at any time during the year. The Committee then examines whether or not the minister in question has acted inappropriately in a specific situation.
The reports may, for example, involve a case of "ministerial rule", that is that a minister has tried to intervene in a matter that should really be determined by a public agency. Other instances could include a comment made by a minister, a trip at the expense of the state or an appointment to a top position in a public agency.
Hearings in the Committee on the Constitution
In order to carry out its examination, the Committee has the right of access to all Government documents, even if they contain classified information. If the Committee needs more information, it may address written questions to the Government or it can summon both ministers and officials to supply oral information.
It is quite common for the Committee on the Constitution to hold public hearings with government ministers and others who may be involved in a particular scrutiny matter. These hearings are open to the public and the media.
Debate in the Riksdag
When the examinations of the Government have been completed, the Committee on the Constitution presents the results to the Riksdag. The general examination is presented in the autumn and the special examination in the spring. In its report, the Committee can, for example, criticise a minister, but has no power to enforce sanctions or demand the minister's resignation. The fundamental idea here is that the criticism from the Committee on the Constitution should give the Government cause to reconsider its work procedures so as to avoid making the same mistake in the future.
Should the Committee on the Constitution conclude that a minister has committed an offence in the performance of his or her duties, it can decide to institute criminal proceedings. The case is then tried before the Supreme Court. However, this is very uncommon and has not been known to happen in modern times.
After the special examination has been carried out, the members of the Committee on the Constitution normally hold a press conference, at which they present the main findings of their examination. Before the matter is closed, the scrutiny report is debated in the Chamber. The general examination is also debated in the Chamber.
Members’ questions to the Government
The right to address questions to the Government is the most frequently used of all parliamentary control instruments. Several thousand questions are addressed to the Government each parliamentary year.
The questions may involve any subject from youth unemployment and student accommodation to foreign policy and the situation for asylum seekers. By addressing questions to the Government, members of the Riksdag can find out what the Government intends to do about a specific problem. It is also a way for members of the Riksdag to attract attention to an issue and to sway public opinion.
The right to address questions to the Government is used mainly by members of the opposition who make use of this opportunity to put questions to the Government. Sometimes, however, questions may come from a member of the party or parties in Government, for example, if he or she considers the matter to have been neglected by the Government.
Interpellations are debated regularly
An interpellation is are a kind of question which is used as the basis of debates in the Chamber almost every week. A member submits his or her question – the interpellation – in writing, to a minister, but receives the answer both in writing and directly from the minister who attends a meeting of the Chamber.
The minister should answer within 14 days, and if the minister is unable to do so, he or she must explain why the answer has been delayed. All members of the Riksdag receive the answers to interpellations in writing in advance and are informed when the minister intends to visit the Riksdag to reply.
For his or her first address, the minister has six minutes in which to read his or her answer to the interpellation. During the debate, the member who has submitted the question and others wishing to speak have four minutes each. This is followed by a second and third, shorter, round. The minister gets the final closing reply.
Interpellations (in Swedish)
On-the-spot questions at Question Time
Every Thursday, Question Time is held at the Riksdag. About once a month, the Prime Minister comes to the Chamber to answer questions. Four ministers are in attendance on the other Thursdays. This is an opportunity for members of the Riksdag to ask questions without advance notice. To give them time to prepare their questions, they are informed which ministers will be attending in good time. The questions asked during Question Time often concern highly topical issues.
Question time sessions should proceed at a rapid rate and all questions and answers should be brief. The session lasts for about one hour, and it is up to the Speaker to decide how many times the ministers and members are allowed to speak.
Written questions without any debate
Written questions can be posed to the ministers at any time during the year. The time available for the minister to answer depends on when the question is submitted. Written questions which are submitted before 10 a.m. on Thursday are to be answered no later than 12 noon the following Wednesday. During the summer, however, the ministers have more time to answer. The ministers reply in writing and no debate is held afterwards.
Written questions (in Swedish)
Declaration of no confidence
If it no longer has confidence in the Prime Minister or in a particular minister, the Riksdag can force the Government's or minister's resignation by deciding on a declaration of no confidence.
The procedure for a declaration of no confidence is as follows:
For a vote on a declaration of no confidence to be held, at least 35 members of the Riksdag must collectively support a proposal for such a vote. At least 175 members must then vote in favour of the proposal if the Riksdag is to declare that the Government or a particular minister no longer has its confidence. This represents a majority of the Riksdag's 349 members. If the Riksdag decides that it does not have confidence in the Prime Minister, the entire Government must resign or call an extraordinary election. If the Riksdag decides that it does not have confidence in a minister, the minister must resign.
The Riksdag has voted on a declaration of no confidence thirteen times. In one of these, the Riksdag voted in favour of a declaration of no confidence. On 21 June 2021, the Riksdag voted in favour of a call for a declaration of no confidence in the former Prime Minister Stefan Löfven (Social Democratic Party).
A list of all the declarations of no confidence follows: