The Freedom of Information Commission will be able to interpret its own terms of reference, a government minister has said. 

Matt Hancock, minister for the Cabinet Office, answered a written parliamentary question to say that those on the Commission could roughly work out its own terms of its review.

In answer to a separate question Hancock also confirmed that he wouldn’t make the Commission subject to the FOI Act.

Asked by Labour MP Paula Dewsbury asked Hancock whether the FOI review, which has been heavily criticised, would look at including private companies operating under public contracts under the FOI legislation.

But Hancock replied with: “It will be for the independent FOI commission to determine the interpretation of its terms of reference.”

In answer to a separate question Hancock also confirmed that he wouldn’t make the Commission subject to the FOI Act.

The terms of reference were set out by the government when the review was first announced:

“The Commission will review the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (‘the Act’) to consider whether there is an appropriate public interest balance between transparency, accountability and the need for sensitive information to have robust protection, and whether the operation of the Act adequately recognises the need for a ‘safe space’ for policy development and implementation and frank advice.

“The Commission may also consider the balance between the need to maintain public access to information, and the burden of the Act on public authorities, and whether change is needed to moderate that while maintaining public access to information.”

In theory it could be possible for the panel to decide it needs to look at ways to increase transparency and openness.

But given the restrictive terms of the terms of reference, people on the panel, and ever-shortening time period until its November deadline, it would be surprising if the Commission were to look at ways to extend the FOI Act. 

I am a journalist and author. I am a staff writer at the UK edition of WIRED magazine and in 2015 my book, Freedom of Information: A Practical Guide for UK Journalists, was published. I created FOI Directory in 2012.