Councillors could be gagged from raising key issues at meetings in a move that risks undermining democracy, one council member has warned.

A rule that was recently added to Barnet Council’s constitution means committee members will not be able to put forward members items on issues that have already been discussed within the past six months.

Members items allow anyone on the committee – including those from the opposition group – to add an issue they deem important to the topics up for debate.

Labour councillors opposed the move at the annual council meeting on May 21 – but it went through on the back of Conservative votes.

Chairman of the Conservative Group Cllr Peter Zinkin pointed out the rule was merely being put back in the constitution after it was accidentally removed during a recent review.

But Labour councillor for East Finchley Cllr Arjun Mittra claimed debate on key issues – such as a recent £2 million fraud against the council by a Capita employee – could be blocked by the ruling administration.

He said: “The practical impact of stopping us from raising concerns within the six months is that the entire agenda is entirely controlled by the committee chairman.

“In particular, the opposition are then disenfranchised from raising urgent issues.

“I would not put it past this administration from trying to block us on raising members items that are embarrassing to them.”

Cllr Mittra claimed this formed part of a “consistent erosion within the council of the basic norms over the last few years”.

He said: “Residents have been banned from speaking for more than three minutes on an issue they raise at residents’ forums, and other elected representatives have been banned from submitting items at the residents’ forums.

“The council has never extended democracy, further speaking rights and engagement. It has only rolled them back.”

But Conservative chairman Cllr Peter Zinkin dismissed the claims and said the idea the Tory administration would suppress debate was “laughable and insulting”.

He said: “I have spoken to Cllr Melvin Cohen, who is chairman of the constitution and general purposes committee and has been on the council for something like 35 years.

“The six-month rule that Cllr Mittra is complaining about has been in place for almost that entire period.

“When we did a constitution review some months ago, by accident the six-month rule was left off.

“This was putting it back where it had been for the last 35 years.”

Cllr Zinkin claimed Labour members had backed the inclusion of the six-month rule when it was discussed by the constitution committee on April 9.

He added the council had been “extremely forthright” on the Capita fraud case and the problems surrounding it.

The Conservative chairman challenged Cllr Mittra to come up with “a single, material example that would have been caught by the six-month rule or where he believes the administration has suppressed an issue by preventing debate”.

Cllr Mittra claimed the Tories had blocked debate about Brexit at full council in October last year and said he was worried about the six-month rule limiting future debate.