One of the Riksdag's most important tasks is to decide on laws. Proposals for new laws, or amendments to existing laws, are normally submitted by the Government. But a legislative proposal can also be submitted in the form of a private members' motion from one or several members of the Riksdag. In the Chamber, the members of the Riksdag debate and decide, among other things, on new laws. The legislative proposals normally come from the Government in the form of Government bills. Photo: Melker Dahlstrand New laws can only be made by the Riksdag. A law that has been adopted can only be stopped or amended through a new decision by the Riksdag. A law may deal with anything from the penalty for shoplifting to the phasing-out of a nuclear power station. Proposals for new legislation, or amendments to existing laws, usually come from the Government in the form of a Government bill. If the Government, for example, wants to introduce a law containing amended rules on overtime, it must first submit a proposal to the Riksdag. For the proposal to be adopted, a majority of members of the Riksdag must vote in favour of it. The Riksdag communicates its decision to the Government, which ensures that it is implemented in the way intended by the Riksdag. The Government can also adopt rules that everyone residing in Sweden must follow. These rules are known as ordinances. The Instrument of Government, which is one of Sweden's fundamental laws, sets out what must be decided by law and what can be decided in an ordinance. All laws and ordinances are published in the Swedish Code of Statutes (SFS). Sweden is a member of the European Union, the EU. This means that it is no longer just the Riksdag by itself that passes legislation that is to apply in Sweden. It shares this task with the EU. Works with EU-related matters Not just decisions about legislation Many, but not all, of the decisions taken by the Riksdag concern legislation. One such example is decisions concerning the central government budget. Other decisions that do not concern new laws are decisions about the goals and guidelines for central government activities. Determines the central government budget Commissions of inquiry Before the Government submits a proposal for a new law to the Riksdag it may need to examine the various alternatives available. The Government will then appoint a commission of inquiry. The commission can comprise one or several people. It may include experts, public officials or politicians. When it appoints a commission of inquiry the Government also provides the committee with a set of guidelines for its work. The guidelines are known as terms of reference, and they set out the questions to be examined by the commission, any problems that need to be solved and the date by which the Government wants the commission to complete its inquiry. Swedish Government Official Reports The commission of inquiry submits its proposals in the form of a report to the Government. The report is then published as part of a series called the Swedish Government Official Reports (SOU). If a Government ministry has carried out the inquiry, the report is published in a series called the Ministry Publications Series (Ds). An inquiry may, for example, have the number SOU 2003:13. 2003 shows that the inquiry was completed that year and 13 that it was the 13th inquiry of the year. Referral for consideration After a commission of inquiry has submitted its report, the Government forwards it to relevant public agencies, organisations and municipalities in order to hear their opinions on the proposals. This is known as the referral of a report for consideration. Anyone, including private individuals, is entitled to obtain a copy of the report and submit comments to the Government. Representatives of various non-governmental organisations often want the opportunity to present their comments to the Government face-to-face. They can then contact the Government. Those wishing to comment on a report normally have at least three months in which to do so. As a rule, their answers should be given in writing so that all parties involved can access them. Proposals from the Government The Government writes down its proposals for new legislation in what is called a Government bill. Before presenting a new bill, the Government has often assigned a commission of inquiry to conduct to conduct a thorough examination of the issue at hand and has consulted various groups in society to hear their opinions on the proposal. The Government adopts a position on the commission of inquiry's report and the comments of the referral bodies. If a large proportion of these referral bodies have been negative to the commission's proposals, the Government may decide not to proceed with the new law or may try to find another solution. The Council on Legislation examines the legislative proposal If the Government does choose to proceed, it writes down its own proposals in the form of a Government bill. The Government bill is normally sent to the Council on Legislation which examines whether the proposed legislation contains any problems of a legal nature. It may, for example, conflict with the Swedish Constitution or other Swedish laws, or may go against the rule of law and lead to unfair treatment of the country's citizens. The Council on Legislation is made up of judges from the Supreme Court and the Supreme Administrative Court. It is not only the Government that can send legislative proposals to the Council on Legislation. The parliamentary committees can also do so. The Council on Legislation's conclusions can then be read in the Government's or committee's proposal. Once the Government has completed its bill, it sends the proposal to the Riksdag. Each year, the Government presents some 200 bills to the Riksdag. Proposals from members of the Riksdag The members of the Riksdag can submit proposals to the Riksdag in the form of private members' motions. These proposals may be submitted by one member or by a group of members. There are rules that govern when private members' motions can be submitted and what topics they may deal with. According to these rules, they can be submitted in response to a proposal from the Government - a Government bill. This means that the members can submit a counter-proposal no later than 15 days after a Government bill has been presented to the Riksdag. The motion must concern the same topic as the bill. The general private members' motions period Once a year, during the period for submission of private members' motions, members of the Riksdag can write motions on virtually any subject. The general private members' motions period begins when the Riksdag opens in the autumn and ends 15 days after the Government has presented the Budget Bill to the Riksdag. The general private members' motions period The proposals are received by the Riksdag After the Government and members of the Riksdag have submitted their proposals to the Riksdag, the Chamber defers its first decision. The Chamber then sends the proposals to the relevant committee which then continues to work with them. However, before the Government's and members' proposals are presented to the Chamber, they are entered into a record. The record also contains a schedule for the Riksdag's continued processing of the proposals. The Chamber's deferral of its decision is known as the "tabling" of the proposal. The act of submitting a proposal to a parliamentary committee is known as "referral" to a committee. Normally, no debate is held when the Chamber tables a proposal. However, a member of the Riksdag can ask for the floor, and the debate that follows is then known as a tabling debate. Members can also ask for the floor when proposals are referred to a committee, even if this is not a common occurrence. The debate that follows is then known as a referral debate. The committees consider the proposals Before the Chamber of the Riksdag decides whether to adopt a proposed law or amendment to law, the proposal must be considered by members of the Riksdag in a parliamentary committee. There are 15 parliamentary committees, each with its own field of responsibility, such as transport or education. A considerable share of the work in the Riksdag is carried out in the committees. The members that make up the committees come from the different parties represented in the Riksdag. The larger parties have more members than the smaller parties. In this way, the composition of the committees usually reflects the balance of power in the Chamber. The members of a committee start by reading up on the various proposals, i.e. Government bills and private members' motions. They often invite experts and representatives of different organisations to obtain further information and to ask their opinions. Such meetings are sometimes open to the public and can also be viewed via the Riksdag webcast service. Other committee meetings are held behind closed doors. The committee's proposal The members of the committee discuss what they think of the various proposals. When the committee has decided what stand to take, officials at the committee secretariat draft the committee report. The committee report contains the committee's recommendation as to the Chamber's decision on the matter. The committee's proposal is based on what the majority of members of the committee think. Members who do not agree may submit reservations on the matter. In their reservations, the minority give an account of their view of the matter. The members consult their party groups Together, the members of a party form the parliamentary party group. In the party group the members of a parliamentary committee can discuss and consult their party colleagues on matters that are raised in the committee. At present eight parties are represented in the Riksdag: the Social Democratic Party (Soc Dem), the Moderate Party (Mod), the Sweden Democrats (Swe Dem), the Green Party (Grn), the Centre Party (Cen), the Left Party (Lft), the Liberal Party (Lib) and the Christian Democrats (Chr Dem). Each party has a party group in the Riksdag which discusses and prepares the matters dealt with by the parliamentary committees. The members of the various committees consult their party groups. Each member has an individual seat in the Riksdag, and there are no rules that compel the members to follow the party line and do what the party group thinks. The Chamber debates and decides The proposal - the committee report - that the committee has presented to the Chamber presents how the committee considers that the Riksdag should vote on the matter. But before the Riksdag takes a decision, the members take part in a debate. Before the committee's proposals are discussed in the Chamber, the members receive a copy of the report in order to give them time to read it. Sometimes a debate is held before a decision is taken. In other cases, the members agree and there is no need for a debate. If a debate is held, the members of the committee that has considered the proposal begin by presenting their views. The debates are open to all members of the Riksdag that wish to participate. The official reporters of the parliamentary record write down everything that is said in the Chamber. The record and debates are all open to the public. The Chamber takes a decision Once the members have concluded their debate it is time for a decision. If there is just one proposal the Speaker, who presides over the Chamber, asks whether the Chamber can accept the proposal. If there are several proposals, they are set against each other. In this case, a vote is held. The record shows how the parties have voted. The Riksdag then sends a written communication to the Government to inform it of its decision. The communication from the Riksdag takes the form of a brief message. More detailed information about the decision is contained in the relevant committee report. The Government implements the Riksdag's decisions It is the Government's task to implement the Riksdag's decisions and ensure that they are enforced in the way intended by the Riksdag. The Government Offices, including the ministries and the public agencies and state-owned companies, assist the Government in this task. After the Riksdag has decided to adopt a new law, the first task for the Government is to ensure that the law is published in the Swedish Code of Statutes (SFS). The Code of Statutes is available both in print and on the Internet, where it can be accessed by anyone. The public agencies and state-owned companies are all accountable to the Government and put into practice the decisions taken by the Riksdag and the Government. The police authorities, the Swedish Tax Agency and the National Board of Health and Welfare are all examples of public agencies. These agencies have an independent status. The Government issues the guidelines for their work. Within this framework, each agency works on its own responsibility. In Sweden "ministerial rule" is prohibited. This means that the Government can direct but cannot intervene in the everyday work of the public agencies. The Riksdag follows up its decisions Every year, the Government presents a written communication to the Riksdag in which it presents the measures taken as a result of the Riksdag's various decisions. The Committee on the Constitution considers the communication, after which a debate is held in the Chamber and a decision is taken on the Committee's proposals. This is a way for the Riksdag to follow up its own decisions. There are a number of other ways for the Riksdag to follow up its decisions. The Chamber can make an announcement to the Government, asking it to report on the results of a decision. The parliamentary committees also evaluate and follow up various decisions.