Barnet Conservatives are facing allegations they have made secret changes to the council’s constitution in a bid to avoid democratic scrutiny.

The Labour group claims the Tories have secretly removed the right of residents to ask public questions or make public comments on members’ items raised by backbench and opposition councillors at committees.

This restricts public questions and comments to so-called ‘substantive’ committee agenda items -reports brought forward by the Conservative administration.

Labour claimed the changes were made at the beginning of this year by ‘delegated authority’, with agreement from the Conservative chair of the constitution, ethics and probity committee, Cllr John Marshall.

It said the committee and full council, which ratifies all changes to the constitution, were not informed.

The change only came to light after residents told Labour councillors they were prevented from submitting public questions on a member’s item relating to libraries.

Labour councillors are calling for this and any other unreported amendments to the constitution to be brought back to the new constitution and general purposes committee for discussion and agreement.

Last month, the Conservative group came under fire for limiting the amount of time people could speak at residents’ forums in a bid to crack down on “village bores”.

Leader of Barnet Labour Group Cllr Barry Rawlings said: “This is yet another attempt by the Barnet Tories to stop debate and scrutiny of issues they don’t want aired or raised.

“The fact that they have sneaked this change through under the radar without even discussing it at the relevant committee or full council suggests they know it was the wrong thing to do.

“First the Tories prevented councillors from speaking at residents’ forums, then they cut residents’ speaking time, and now they are restricting what questions can be asked. The council and councillors are here to serve residents, not prevent them from speaking out.”

Leader of Barnet Council Cllr Richard Cornelius said: “Given there were 74 written public questions submitted and answered at last week’s meeting of the environment committee, plus oral supplementary questions, I think it’s safe to say debate and scrutiny are alive and well in Barnet – at least from residents.”