The conduct of Baroness Tonge Contents

Annex 2: Report from the Commissioner for Standards

Summary of the complaint and investigation

1.On 25 October 2016 Baroness Tonge hosted and chaired a meeting in House of Lords committee room 2A in the Palace of Westminster. The meeting was organised by the Palestinian Return Centre to launch the “Balfour Apology Campaign”. The meeting was filmed and photographed; both were published on the internet, including on the website of the Palestinian Return Centre. Journalists were present. Two days later The Times reported on the meeting under the headline “Jews blamed for Holocaust at ‘shameful’ House of Lords event”.1 It was also reported in the Jewish Chronicle.2 Both newspaper articles mentioned a blog by David Collier,3 who attended the meeting. A transcript taken from the recordings of the meeting is in appendix A.4

2.On 31 October 2016 I received a complaint from Karen Elizabeth Leon about the meeting. The complainant suggested Baroness Tonge breached the Code of Conduct because discussion at the meeting was “very anti-Semitic with the usual comments made about non-Israeli Jews”; was an “anti-Jewish litany and holocaust deniers’ rant”; that Baroness Tonge “did not rebuke her speakers or stop them at any time”; and that “blatant racism and anti-Semitism was made … public by her meeting and her speakers.”5

3.I also received a letter dated 27 October 2016 from Mark Regev, the Ambassador of Israel.6 He expressed “alarm” about the event, suggesting that its content involved “disseminating antisemitism, promoting Holocaust revisionism and encouraging support for Hamas”. He commented that remarks that “Jews themselves had caused the Holocaust” and “the ‘Zionist movement’ holds power over Parliament” were “clearly grounded in bigotry and hatred”. He referred to paragraph 9 of the Code of Conduct,7 which requires members to act on their personal honour. The Ambassador did not identify an individual alleged to be in breach of the Code; his letter was about the event. Therefore the letter could not be treated as a formal complaint,8 but as it was relevant to the complaint already received I disclosed it to Baroness Tonge.

4.I carried out a preliminary assessment of the complaint. On the basis of it I decided there were two matters which warranted investigation. First, whether in hosting and chairing the meeting Baroness Tonge may have not acted on her personal honour. Secondly, whether she may have breached the Code by not acting in accordance with a rule on the use of facilities agreed by the House: that permission should be obtained for such an event to be filmed and photographed.

5.I wrote to Baroness Tonge on 8 November 2016 seeking her response to the matters under investigation.9 She replied on 21 November 2016.10

6.On 17 November 2016 I received a further complaint, from six members of the House: Lord Beecham, Lord Carlile of Berriew, Baroness Deech, Lord Mitchell, Lord Palmer of Childs Hill and Lord Stunell.11 They complained that the meeting was “host to appalling antisemitic comments and Holocaust denial by audience members”; that the audience “applauded statements … that Hitler only decided to kill all the Jews after he was provoked by anti-German protests led by a Rabbi in Manhattan, and that “the Zionist movement has that power and it has that over our own Parliament”.” They considered comments at the meeting about the Holocaust and Zionism to be “historically and factually inaccurate” and “a classic antisemitic trope.” They referred to Baroness Tonge hosting and chairing the meeting and invited me to investigate if the Code had been breached.

7.I advised the six members that I would consider their complaint as part of my investigation into whether Baroness Tonge had failed to act on her personal honour.12 I provided the six members with the transcript of the meeting and invited them to identify the particular remarks during the event which they considered to be antisemitic or which otherwise may have breached the Code of Conduct. At that time there was no official government definition of antisemitism for me to refer to, and as they wrote to me as members of the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism I was keen to get their detailed views.

8.Lord Beecham replied in an email of 24 November 2016.13 He referred to comments by “audience member 11” about the Holocaust and Zionism, and suggested that Baroness Tonge’s failure to rebut or question those remarks breached the Code.

9.Lord Palmer of Childs Hill replied in an email of 27 November 2016.14 He too suggested Baroness Tonge was at fault for not “distancing herself and the meeting from very offensive remarks”, particularly those by “audience member 11”.

10.I wrote further to Baroness Tonge on 25 November 2016 asking questions arising from her previous response and disclosing to her the complaint by the six members.15 I also disclosed to her the follow-up emails from Lord Beecham and Lord Palmer of Childs Hill.

11.Baroness Tonge replied on 30 November 2016.16 The chairman of the Palestinian Return Centre, Majed al Zeer, wrote to me on 5 December 2016 in response to a request I had made to Baroness Tonge.17 I interviewed Baroness Tonge on 12 December 2016.18 I asked the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod, David Leakey, who is responsible for enforcing the House’s rules on filming and photography, for a statement on those rules.19

12.On 16 December 2016, while my investigation into the above two complaints was under way, I received a further complaint, from Jonathan Hoffman.20 He alleged that on 14 December 2016 Baroness Tonge hosted an event in a meeting room in the House of Lords at which the book State of Terror by Thomas Suárez was launched. The complainant alleged that the book contained antisemitic material.

13.After a preliminary assessment I decided to investigate one aspect of this third complaint. This was whether Baroness Tonge may have breached the Code by not acting in accordance with the House’s rules on the use of facilities—specifically the banqueting rules—by hosting a book launch at a catered event. Related to this was whether, if Baroness Tonge had breached two sets of rules on hosting events in Parliament in short order, she had failed to act on her personal honour. I wrote to Baroness Tonge on 5 January 2017 seeking her response to this matter.21 She replied on 8 January 2017.22 Lord Warner, who was present at the meeting, sent me his view of it on 15 January 2017.23

Launch of Balfour Apology Campaign on 25 October 2016

Alleged failure to act on personal honour: relevant definitions

14.The Balfour Apology Campaign is designed to obtain an official apology from the UK Government for the Balfour Declaration of 1917. Here is the description of it and the meeting on 25 October 2016 from the Palestinian Return Centre’s website:

“The Palestinian Return Centre is hosting an event inside the UK Parliament a week ahead of the 99th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration which will be on November 2nd. The Balfour Declaration, which had no basis of legal authority, promised the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine, where the indigenous Palestinians amounted to 90% of the total population.

After the Balfour Declaration Palestine became the victim of colonialism and Britain’s legacy is still evident today as Palestinians continue to be denied the right to self-determination and suffer from living under military occupation or as refugees. As the 100th year since the Balfour declaration approaches, the Palestinian Return Centre has decided to re-launch its campaign which started in 2013 called Balfour Apology Campaign which asks the UK Government to officially apologies for its past colonial crimes in Palestine.

Committee Room 2a, Houses of Parliament

Tuesday 25th of October at 7pm

Hosted and chaired by 
Baroness Jenny Tonge

Panel Includes

Professor Manuel Hassassian, Ambassador of the Palestinian Mission to the UK

Betty Hunter, Honorary President of Palestine Solidarity

Britain’s legal and moral obligation

Karl Sabbagh, Historian and Writer

How successive British governments fell in love with Zionism, until it was too late

Majed Al-Zeer, President of the Palestinian Return Centre

On the Balfour Apology Campaign

More speakers to be announced”.24

15.In December 2016 the Government adopted the working definition of antisemitism agreed in May 2016 at a plenary meeting of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. It is:

“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”25

16.I have used this definition and the examples which accompany it in considering the complaints.

17.As an allegation about Zionists was the subject of complaint I have used this dictionary definition of Zionism:

“a movement for (originally) the re-establishment and (now) the development and protection of a Jewish nation in what is now Israel … ”26

The Code of Conduct and personal honour

18.I have considered whether in hosting and chairing of the meeting Baroness Tonge failed to act on her personal honour. In reaching conclusions about what was said at the meeting I seek only to address this question; nothing which follows should otherwise be taken as endorsing or criticising the cause launched at the meeting or the views expressed there.

19.Under paragraph 8(b) of the Code of Conduct members “should act always on their personal honour”. This is elaborated on in paragraph 7 of the Guide to the Code of Conduct, which quotes from a report of the Committee for Privileges:

“The term ‘personal honour’ has been used within the House for centuries to describe the guiding principles that govern the conduct of members; its meaning has never been defined, and has not needed definition, because it is inherent in the culture and conventions of the House. These change over time, and thus any definition of ‘personal honour’, while it might achieve temporary ‘legal certainty’, would quickly become out-moded … the term ‘personal honour’ is ultimately an expression of the sense of the House as a whole as to the standards of conduct expected of individual members … members cannot rely simply on their own personal sense of what is honourable. They are required to act in accordance with the standards expected by the House as a whole. ‘Personal honour’ is thus … a matter for individual members, subject to the sense and culture of the House as a whole.”

20.Paragraph 9 of the Guide continues:

“a written Code can never cover every eventuality. Paragraphs 8(a) [which requires members to comply with the Code] and 8(b) of the Code, taken together, mean that members are required not only to obey the letter of the rules, but to act in accordance with the spirit of those rules and the sense of the House. This includes the rules agreed by the House in respect of financial support for members or the facilities of the House.”

21.This case raised the question of how the requirement to act on personal honour applies to a member who hosts a meeting in the House of Lords’ part of the parliamentary estate.

22.Two of the complainants referred to “deeply offensive” and “very offensive” remarks being made at the meeting.27 I considered whether the sense of the House would be that a member hosting a meeting on the parliamentary estate should be required to take steps to prevent grossly offensive comments being made, or to intervene once such a comment has been made. I concluded that a test of “gross offensiveness” would not be appropriate, for three reasons.

23.First, any test of gross offensiveness would be subjective.

24.Secondly, the sense of the House as a whole is likely to favour preserving freedom of speech on the parliamentary estate, both because it is important in its own right and because of the symbolism of restricting it on the parliamentary estate.

25.Thirdly, any requirement on members to monitor the content of everything said at meetings they host and/or to intervene where offence may have been caused might have a “chilling effect”. Such a requirement might result in members erring on the side of not hosting meetings on the parliamentary estate; or they might become excessively vigilant in intervening during meetings, perhaps to the hindrance of the free exchange of views.

26.Instead, I consider that the sense of the House is that a member should not host a meeting on the parliamentary estate with the intention of promoting antisemitism (or any other form of discrimination based on protected characteristics) and, if a meeting on the parliamentary estate was not hosted for that purpose but was taken over by those promoting antisemitism, that the member should take steps to address that.

Consideration of alleged failure to act on personal honour

27.Applying the above test to this case, I now consider:

(a)whether there were examples of antisemitism at the meeting;

(b)if so, whether those examples amounted to a takeover of the meeting by those promoting antisemitism;

(c)if so, whether Baroness Tonge took steps to address the takeover.

28.I deal first with the complaints that there was Holocaust denial and Holocaust revisionism at the meeting, that this was applauded by the audience and that Baroness Tonge made no effort to stop or challenge these remarks. There are three references to the Holocaust in the transcript. First:

“There are two issues. Is Britain in general historically and politically responsible? If so, one obligation is there on today’s Government to make an apology for the action of their predecessors. Let us take two examples: slavery and the Holocaust. These are issues where people, entities and groups have sought apologies in the past and received them. These are apologies not for actions that were done by those in power at the time of the apology; these are apologies for events that happened in the past, for which nevertheless their successors as politicians and statesmen have accepted there is some value and necessity to apologise in that situation.”28


“No matter how often the truth is spelled out, by Jewish historians as well as others, the denials continue. Jenny mentioned my publishing company. We have a book that has just come out called State of Terror, which is an appalling catalogue of the violence and terror in the 1940s and into the 1950s when the state of Israel was founded—terror not just by small Jewish terrorist groups but supported by large numbers of Jews who lived in Palestine. It was a blatant and self-justifying attempt to get the British out of Palestine and take over the land. That needs an apology. Holocaust denial is quite rightly seen as a gross insult to the memory of millions who suffered under Nazi Germany but Nakba denial is a daily occurrence for Palestinians. It is a real obstacle to any peace settlement. To put it another way, the psychological effect of an apology would be to remove a major roadblock, proving that for the first time the Israelis were serious about addressing the injustice and arguing for a peace treaty.”29

30.The above two quotes include nothing that could be interpreted as Holocaust denial or revisionism.

31.The third mention of the Holocaust was by “audience member 11”. He was apparently a member of the Neturei Karta sect of Judaism.30 The sect is described thus: “Neturei Karta opposed the establishment of and retain all opposition to the existence of the so-called “State of Israel”.”31 At the meeting he was wearing the sect’s distinctive dress, apparently based on that of an 18th-century Polish nobleman.32 He was one of three or four members of Neturei Karta who arrived part-way through the meeting.33 He was not one of the invited speakers; he asked a question from the floor. The members of Neturei Karta had apparently not registered to attend the meeting.34 This was the exchange:

Audience member 11: I’m not wanting to distract from the situation in Palestine, but surely one of the best ways to atone for the mistakes of the past is to prevent the same type of thing happening in the future. I am referring specifically to the situation now in Syria and Iraq. Just as the so-called Jewish state in Palestine was created by—it doesn’t come from Judaism [inaudible]—so this Islamic state in Syria is nothing to do with Islam. It is a perversion of Islam, just as Zionism is a perversion of Judaism which serves certain non-Semitic interests. It is just carrying on. Just as the main victims—I’m again not wishing to belittle in any way the suffering of the Palestinians, the Arab and Christian Palestinians and Muslim Palestinians at the hands of the Zionists.

I once said to a daughter of one of the Palestinian refugees who had to leave after the ’48 war [inaudible] ending up having to leave Palestine, I said, not wishing to belittle the sufferings that they had had at the hands of the Zionists and these victims [inaudible] spiritually and physically at the hands of the Zionists due to the Holocaust, one of the main Zionist speakers in America, so-called Rabbi Stephen Wise, a Reform heretic so-called rabbi, is quoted in the New York Times, I think it was 1905, “There are 6 million”—note the number—“bleeding and suffering reasons to justify Zionism.” Thirty years later he made the boycott on Germany, the economic boycott on Germany, which antagonised Hitler over the edge to then want to systematically kill Jews wherever he could find them, as opposed to just a Judenrein, to make Germany a Jew-free area of land, which is enough. But that isn’t noted by one of the rabbis. That’s what pushed him over the edge. His personal secretary Ribbentrop was in Nuremberg during the trials. He said to Rabbi [inaudible], “Well this is what, he became a madman after this boycott. Judea declares war on Germany.” In Manhattan, they had I think 100,000 or more people marching for the economic boycott in 1935. It was the same Reform heretic rabbi who holds that 30 years prior put the number 6 million in the New York Times. Again, it doesn’t come from Jewish interests. It’s not promoting the whole ideology—

Baroness Tonge: Thank you very much. I think it’s very important that the word “boycott” has come up, because BDS, the campaign to boycott Israeli goods and services and for divestment from Israel, a lot of us think—most of us think—that it’s very, very important indeed. [Applause.] In this year of apologising for Balfour, that is one really effective action we can make stronger and stronger and stronger to show the Israeli government that we do not like them, they are not a good thing and they have got to stop what they’re doing and leave the Palestinians. I mean, Karl is a non-two-state-solution man, because he feels that it’s gone, I think, too far now and it’s a bit difficult when you go out there to see that two states. But whether it’s a two-state solution or one state, the Palestinian people have to have total freedom and equal human rights and political rights and physical rights and they have to have their homes and lands back. I mean, there’s no question about it and BDS is the thing we can do to put pressure on Israel. We can put pressure on our Government to apologise for Balfour, but we can put pressure on the Israeli government by BDS. Now, more questions.”

32.This contribution by audience member 11 is more problematic than the previous two. It is unclear what points the speaker was trying to make. Baroness Tonge said while audience member 11 was talking she “could barely hear what he was saying and I was looking for an opportunity to interrupt and go on to another contributor, which I did when I heard him use the word ‘boycott’. I used this to move the meeting on to discuss the BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions). At that point the audience clapped in relief and we moved on.”35 Baroness Tonge repeated in a subsequent letter to me and at our interview that she had not understood what audience member 11 was saying at the meeting, or even after reading the transcript of it.36 Others present stated that they had trouble understanding the speaker, saying he was “garbled” and “unintelligent”.37 Thus my findings are based on the transcript of what audience member 11 said, the purpose, and even the meaning, of which is unclear.

33.Having read Mr Collier’s blog, I understand that the reference to

“Rabbi Stephen Wise, a Reform heretic so-called rabbi, is quoted in the New York Times, I think it was 1905, “There are 6 million”—note the number—“bleeding and suffering reasons to justify Zionism.””

is a device used by Holocaust deniers to seek to show that the numbers of Jews killed in the Holocaust was exaggerated. The complaint by the six members of the House said this was a “classic anti-semitic trope.” I accept that reference to this apparent mention of six million in 1905 is used by Holocaust deniers and is antisemitic when used in this way.

34.However, the rest of audience member 11’s contribution appears to show that he accepted the reality of the Holocaust. The fact that Holocaust deniers use this device cannot be evidence that someone who accepts that Hitler wanted “to systematically kill Jews wherever he could find them” is a Holocaust denier.

35.The Israeli Ambassador complained that the event promoted “Holocaust revisionism” and that remarks that “Jews themselves … caused the Holocaust” were “clearly grounded in bigotry and hatred”.38 The six members of the House complained that the audience “applauded statements … that Hitler only decided to kill all the Jews after he was provoked by anti-German protests led by a Rabbi in Manhattan”.39 These complaints clearly arose from the contribution of audience member 11. The allegation that Jews caused the Holocaust is an example of Holocaust revisionism and clearly fits within the official definition of antisemitism.

36.However, this is not what audience member 11 actually said. He referred to an economic boycott led by Rabbi Wise, but he did not say that the boycott was by Jews or Zionists.

37.Mr Collier’s blog makes a link with neo-Nazi websites that claim that the economic boycott of Germany was carried out by Zionists who were therefore to blame for the Holocaust. I have no reason to doubt Mr Collier’s claim. People who monitor such neo-Nazi websites are likely to be aware of this type of Holocaust revisionism. But those who do not have this specialist knowledge cannot be expected to decode incomplete references to allegations which do not, in the words used, appear to be antisemitic, or even anti-Zionist.

38.Complaints were made that the audience applauded the remarks of audience member 11, and that Baroness Tonge made no attempt to stop him speaking. As noted above, Baroness Tonge said she was looking for an opportunity to interrupt audience member 11, and did so when he used the word “boycott”. The video and transcript bear out her recollection; they show that she interrupted him and that the applause followed her reference to the current boycott campaign, rather than the remarks of audience member 11.

39.I note from the recording of the meeting that the next speaker was sitting in the same part of the room as audience member 11, and that Baroness Tonge had to ask her to repeat her question.40 This supports the suggestion that audience member 11 was inaudible as well as incoherent.

40.Another specific complaint was that a reference was made to the Zionist movement having power over Parliament.41 The complete quote (from audience member 8) is:

“The trouble is that 100 years on, and I’m not talking about world Jewry, I’m talking about that segment which we call the Zionist movement, which has that power. It has it over our own Parliament. It has been able to put people into a very invidious situation.

When I look around middle-class society, there is a lot of awareness of what’s gone on. I can see this when I talk at the churches, at the political parties, even to my own family. There is a massive fear factor of being outed or denigrated or, to put it in the words of Sir Alan Duncan, of being “trashed, traduced and bullied” because you speak up for Palestinians. We have created that situation for ourselves and we need to tell people that. Ultimately we will pay for this in suppression of free speech and the ability to discuss things openly among ourselves. We cannot have the sort of open debate that we had about Scottish independence, which horrified me—the idea of tearing our country in two—but it was carried out in a relatively civil manner if you compare it to the sort of nastiness you get if you stand up for the Palestinians and the smearing that can come not only from Zionists and people who are not even Jewish but who are playing that game—there are some of them here in Parliament. So please let’s take that message out to the people as well. [Applause.]”42

41.It is clear that what was being alleged was that those who speak up for Palestinians can be denigrated, which creates a fear of speaking out and results in free speech being suppressed.

42.One example of antisemitism is that of:

“Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective—such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.”

43.Audience member 8’s allegation of controlling Parliament is not made against Jews, but against Zionists and non-Jews who “smear” those who support Palestinians. The issue of whether anti-Zionist criticism is coded antisemitism is contentious, must be situation-specific and is not one on which I can give a general answer. However, as the speaker explicitly stated that he was not referring to world Jewry, and as he did not criticise Jews as such or the power of Jews as a collective, I do not think that this remark fits within the definition of antisemitism.

44.There were also non-itemised complaints that the event was “very anti-semitic;”43 was an “anti-Jewish litany”;44 involved “disseminating anti-semitism”;45 and was “host to appalling antisemitic comments.”46 In light of these I have considered whether anything else was said at the meeting to justify these complaints.

45.While reading the transcript I noticed that the remarks of at least one speaker were not recorded.47 At several points remarks were unable to be transcribed so are marked “inaudible”. The recording was in three parts, and it seemed there were gaps between them. I was concerned that there was a possibility that antisemitic comments could have been made during a gap in the recordings or transcript.

46.I have checked the recordings (which are online) against the transcript to see if I could hear what the transcribers found inaudible. I was not able to distinguish clearly any of the words labelled inaudible, but at most they were a few words long and part of longer sentences which were not about the Holocaust or antisemitism.

47.In case there were antisemitic comments that could have been made in the gap between the second and third recordings, I looked at all the specific examples given in Mr Collier’s blog. He referred to “four incidents that I need to describe, to expand on this issue of growing antisemitism”.48

48.One was the comment by Mike Abramov (see footnote 47). The others were all captured in the recordings, and included the contributions of audience member 8 and audience member 11, both considered above.

49.The remaining “incident” referred to in the blog was the comment by one of the invited speakers, Betty Hunter, that “Israel is not a democracy.”49 Ms Hunter also referred to “the colonialism of the Israeli state” and said that “the new colonialism of Israel was all based on violence”, particularly against Palestinians.50

50.The official definition of antisemitism makes clear that “criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.” Ms Hunter’s criticisms of Israel were that that “violence … is waged on the Palestinian people daily”;51 that “more and more land” is being confiscated, with settlements “encroaching all over the West Bank and in East Jerusalem”;52 and that not all of its citizens “have the same rights.”53 Whether or not these criticisms are justified, they are clearly similar to criticisms levelled at other countries, including at the meeting, and including by Ms Hunter, who was critical of racism in the United States and elsewhere.54

51.I fully understand that supporters of Israel may find these criticisms hurtful and unfair, but I do not consider that her remarks fit the definition of antisemitism above as they refer to alleged political decisions.

52.Many of the criticisms at the meeting that were not directed at successive British governments were directed at alleged Israeli political decisions which have adversely affected Palestinians. As with my finding with regard to Ms Hunter, I do not consider that these criticisms fit the definition of antisemitism above.

53.The definition antisemitism states that it can also be expressed by the use of “sinister stereotypes and negative character traits.” I heard and read no such stereotyping at this event. When talking about the views and actions of Jews, official speakers and audience members acknowledged that Jews in Israel, in Britain and around the world have a variety of political opinions, including differing opinions about Israel and its policies. There were no suggestions that Jews have particular characteristics that distinguish them from others. Speakers also referenced support for Zionism by non-Jews, which indicates that Zionism is recognised as a political or religious cause, not a Jewish trait.

54.One of the complainants alleged that the event involved “blatant racism”.55 Although no comment was identified in connection with this allegation, it may have been connected to Mr Collier’s remark in his blog about the contribution of audience member 14. That person spoke at the end of the meeting and said:

“Just to say thank you. It is marvellous work. Keep it up. We belong to large groups all over the world. Not necessarily one specific community but religious groups at large are totally upset with everything around Israel, whether it’s being antagonistic against the Palestinians, harming them and indeed harming the Jewish religion itself. So you keep it up. You should never be impressed and fear that the Israelis will come back to you and say you’re an anti-Semite, which they will. It is their best tool. Don’t look at it. Ignore it. It is not true. If anybody’s anti-Semitic, it’s the Israelis themselves. [Applause.]”

55.It was claimed in the blog and the newspaper articles that the last sentence of this received applause. I have set out the whole quote so that the last sentence can be put in context.

56.The sentence itself is offensive and untrue. However, in context I do not believe it amounts to racism, as it is clearly directed at those whom the speaker believes make untrue allegations of antisemitism against those who support the Palestinian cause.

Finding on alleged failure to act on personal honour

57.It is clear from the transcript that the event as billed—to launch the Palestinian Return Centre’s Balfour Apology Campaign—was what took place, and that the event was not intended to promote antisemitism. I find that there was no takeover of the event by people promoting antisemitism, and that therefore Baroness Tonge was not obliged to deal with any such takeover.

58.For the above reasons I find that Baroness Tonge did not breach paragraph 8(b) of the Code of Conduct in her hosting and chairing of the meeting on the parliamentary estate on 25 October 2016.

Alleged breach of rules on filming and photography: background

59.Under paragraph 10(c) of the Code of Conduct members must “act in accordance with any rules agreed by the House in respect of … the facilities of the House.”

60.The rules on filming and photography in the House of Lords’ part of the parliamentary estate were agreed by the relevant committee of the House.56 They are set out in the Handbook on facilities and services for Members and their staff.57 They are in a leaflet for members entitled Filming Rules and have been covered in the members’ newsletter Red Benches.58 Thus they have been well advertised to members.

61.At the heart of the rules is the requirement to obtain Black Rod’s permission for any proposed filming or photography in the House of Lords’ part of the parliamentary estate before the event. This requirement is longstanding. It was set out in a 1996 report by the House of Lords Offices Committee,59 which was agreed by the House that year.60 Thus the requirement for Black Rod’s permission has been agreed by the House, and so a breach of that requirement constitutes a breach of paragraph 10(c) of the Code of Conduct.

62.The rules on filming and photography contain a set of underlying principles. One principle is that any filming or photography must be for private use only. Permission must be given by Black Rod in order for filming or photography to be published more widely, including on websites and social media. Such permission will not normally be given if the event being filmed would “show preference to one cause over another.”61 The reason for that rule is to prevent the House being used as a platform or backcloth to promote on broadcast media a cause, agenda or interest.62

63.In a statement to me Black Rod said that he normally has to decline requests to film unless (a) the event is in support of the House’s corporate or official role (such as the launch of a select committee report); (b) the event is a press conference in one of the rooms permitted for them; or (c) the member gives a convincing assurance that the recoding is for purely private, internal or domestic use, and is not to be posted or broadcast on public media.63

Consideration of alleged breach of rules on filming and photography

64.Baroness Tonge admitted that she had not complied with the rules on filming and photography.64 She said she had not been aware of the rules. She did not know in advance of the event that it would be filmed. When she arrived and saw the cameras she asked the camera crew if they had permission; the cameraman replied that he had.65 The camera crew (who were from the Al Jazeera Mubasher channel) assumed that their National Union of Journalists’ press accreditation gave them sufficient access. They said they often filmed events in Parliament and pass through security without difficulty.66 They were not stopped by security staff on this occasion.

65.The fact that this meeting was filmed and photographed without the requisite permission had the effect of associating the House of Lords with an event which showed “preference to one cause over another”. It supported the campaign for an apology from the British Government for the Balfour Declaration over the opinions of those who take a different view.

66.That said, without the recording it would have been impossible for me to deal with the complaints about breach of personal honour by using the best possible evidence.

Finding on alleged breach of rules on filming and photography

67.Members are under an obligation to ensure they are familiar with, and abide by, the rules governing meetings they host on the parliamentary estate. In this instance, Baroness Tonge said she was not familiar with the rules, and relied on the indication of the camera crew that they had sufficient permission. I have no reason to doubt that, but it does not remove Baroness Tonge’s responsibility for ensuring that the event complied with the rules.

68.I find that Baroness Tonge breached paragraph 10(c) of the Code of Conduct by not obtaining permission for the event on 25 October 2016 to be filmed and photographed. I repeat that Baroness Tonge has admitted this breach, and apologised to me for it.

Event on 14 December 2016

Alleged breach of banqueting rules and alleged failure to act on personal honour: background

69.On 14 December 2016 Baroness Tonge hosted an event in House of Lords committee room G at which Thomas Suárez discussed his book State of Terror. The event was catered. That means that the House’s banqueting rules67 applied. These rules were agreed by the House,68 so a breach of them is a breach of the Code of Conduct. If a breach in this respect was established, I would also consider whether Baroness Tonge had failed to act on her personal honour by breaching two sets of rules on hosting events in Parliament in short order.

70.Rule J of the banqueting rules states:

“No commercial promotion or demonstration, or book or product launch, is permitted by any person or external organisation, including on publicity material for the function. The only exceptions permitted are for book launches for books written by Members or primarily about them or for publications produced by UK Registered Charities.”

71.The book State of Terror is subtitled “How terrorism created modern Israel”. It clearly is not a book written by a member or primarily about members, and is was not produced by a UK registered charity. Therefore, if the event on 14 December 2016 amounted to a book launch, it would have been in breach of the banqueting rules.

Consideration of alleged breach of banqueting rules and alleged failure to act on personal honour

72.In her response69 to this complaint Baroness Tonge said that the book was published in early October 2016. There were two book launches held then70 at which the book was on sale. Reviews appeared in two journals and on social media around that time. Baroness Tonge said that the publisher asked if a further book launch was possible in the Lords. She said it was not.

73.However, Baroness Tonge said that as there was interest among her friends in the book she decided to hold a private party in which the author would discuss his book. She said that no books were on sale at the event and she did not see a copy of it in the room. No press or media were present or invited; all the 30 or so people there were friends or colleagues of hers or the author’s. Refreshments were paid for by a friend of hers.

74.Baroness Tonge enclosed a letter from the managing director of the publishers of the book, which confirmed her account.71 Separately, Lord Warner emailed me.72 He was at the event. He said that the publisher had made clear at the event that it was not a book launch and that copies of the book could not be purchased there. He said that the book had already been launched and that it was clear many of those at the event on 14 December 2016 had already read it. He outlined the contents of the book and thought there was “no reason why we as parliamentarians should not be able to meet and discuss difficult issues in our committee rooms”.

Finding on alleged breach of banqueting rules and alleged failure to act on personal honour

75.I find that the event hosted by Baroness Tonge on 14 December 2016 did not constitute a book launch. The event took place two months after the book was published, and after two (external) formal book launches. The book was not on sale or display at the event. As the event was not a book launch I find that Baroness Tonge did not breach the banqueting rules and so did not breach paragraph 10(c) of the Code of Conduct. It follows that she did not breach the requirement to act on her personal honour by not complying with those rules.

Summary of findings

76.In this report I find that Baroness Tonge:

(i)did not breach paragraph 8(b) of the Code of Conduct in respect of the meeting in committee room 2A hosted and chaired by her on 25 October 2016;

(ii)breached paragraph 10(c) of the Code of Conduct by not obtaining permission for that meeting to be filmed and photographed—a breach admitted by Baroness Tonge;

(iii)did not breach paragraph 8(b) or 10(c) of the Code of Conduct in respect of the event in committee room G hosted by her on 14 December 2016.

77.This is the first occasion on which a member has been found in breach of the Code for failure to comply with the rules on filming and photography. I therefore consider it appropriate to refer the case to the Sub-Committee on Lords’ Conduct.

Lucy Scott-Moncrieff, CBE

Commissioner for Standards

1 The Times, 27 October 2016.

2 Jewish Chronicle, “‘Shameful’ House of Lords event condemned after audience ‘blames Jews for Holocaust’”, 27 October 2016.

3 Appendix E.

4 I am grateful to House of Lords Hansard for producing the transcript.

5 Appendix C.

6 Appendix B.

7 Fifth edition: July 2016.

8 I asked the Ambassador if he intended to make a formal complaint about Baroness Tonge and, if he did, if he could clarify which particular remarks during the meeting he considered may have breached the Code of Conduct. The Ambassador’s office replied that he did not wish to add to his original letter.

9 Appendix D.

10 Appendix E.

11 Appendix F.

12 Appendix G.

13 Appendix H.

14 Appendix I.

15 Appendix J.

16 Appendix K.

17 Appendix L.

18 Appendix M.

19 Appendix N.

20 Appendix O.

21 Appendix P.

22 Appendix Q.

23 Appendix R.


25 The definition was accompanied by examples of antisemitism, which are at this link:

26 Oxford Dictionary of English, second edition (Oxford University Press).

27 Appendices H and I.

28 Appendix A, opening speech by Karl Sabbagh.

29 Ibid.

30 Appendix E.


32 Appendices E, K and M.

33 Appendices E (blog by David Collier), L and M.

34 Appendices L and M.

35 Appendix E.

36 Appendices K and M.

37 Appendix K (statements by Jonathan Coulter and Jocelyn Hurndall).

38 Appendix B.

39 Appendix F.

40 Appendix A, contribution by audience member 12.

41 Appendix F.

42 Appendix A, audience member 8.

43 Appendix C.

44 Ibid.

45 Appendix B.

46 Appendix F.

47 After the contribution by audience member 6, Karl Sabbagh refers to another contributor’s comments, which Mr Sabbagh described as “the picture of the Israeli parliament as a haven of peaceful co-existence, with the Arab MPs and Israelis.” (Appendix A.) I could find no prior comment about the Israeli parliament. However, Mr Collier’s blog did refer to a contributor, Mike Abramov, who “spoke up for Israel”. (Appendix E.)

48 Appendix E.

49 Appendix A, made in response to audience member 7.

50 Appendix A, made in Betty Hunter’s opening remarks.

51 Ibid.

52 Ibid.

53 Appendix A, made in response to audience member 7.

54 Appendix A, made in response to audience member 7.

55 Appendix C.

56 Minutes of the meeting of the Administration and Works Committee on 11 February 2014 (available on the parliamentary website).

57 “Rules on filming within the House of Lords”, Handbook on facilities and services for Members and their staff (October 2015), page 56.

58 Editions 44 (August/September 2014) and 57 (June/July 2016).

59 A predecessor of the House of Lords Commission.

60 House of Lords Offices Committee, (3rd Report, Session 1995–96, HL Paper 83); agreed by the House on 3 June 1996 (see LJ (1995–96) 442–43 and 464).

61 Op. cit.

62 Appendix N.

63 Appendix N.

64 Appendices E and M.

65 Appendix M.

66 Appendix E (email from Islam Ali, AJM Correspondent, Mubashar Channel, to Baroness Tonge).

67 House Committee, Banqueting rules (1st Report, Session 2014–15, HL Paper 8).

68 They were agreed on 30 July 2014.

69 Appendix Q.

70 One in the Mosaic Rooms, the other in SOAS University of London.

71 Appendix Q.

72 Appendix R.

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