David Cameron faced a call from one of his own backbenchers in the House of Commons today to sack a Liberal Democrat minister for missing a key set of votes on welfare reform.
The Prime Minister batted away the challenge from right-winger Peter Bone, but stopped well short of a conspicuous display of support for Lib Dem Sarah Teather, who is facing Tory calls for her to be removed as children's minister.
Last Wednesday's votes saw a packed House of Commons overturn Lords amendments which would have blocked the creation of a £26,000 cap on household benefits and watered down Government reforms to disability allowances.
Ms Teather was absent from the debate in the House of Commons last week despite a three-line whip requiring attendance. Downing Street said she was on departmental business in Sheffield and had obtained permission to be away.
In December, the minister said there were "serious issues the Government needs to resolve" over the impact of the reforms on disabled children and young people who may be forced to change schools or move homes.
At Prime Minister's Questions today, Wellingborough MP Mr Bone told Mr Cameron: "Last Wednesday, the Commons rejected the Lords' attempt to wreck the reform bill. On seven occasions, the Commons voted, the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister voted but the children's minister - the honourable member for Brent Central - refused to support the Government and has spoken against the policy.
"On occasion, I have spoken against the Government and not supported them, but I am not a Government minister. Why is she still a Government minister?"
Mr Cameron responded: "The honourable lady is a Government minister. She supports Government policy, as all Government ministers do."
Joking about serial rebel Mr Bone's prospects of promotion, Mr Cameron initially responded to his comment that he was not a Government minister by telling baying MPs: "I thought he was going to say 'Yet'."
Tory MP Priti Patel was also critical of Ms Teather, telling the Daily Mail: "When you are a minister, your job is to turn up and vote for the Government. You can't pick and choose which policies you vote for if you want to remain a minister."
But a Downing Street spokeswoman said that Ms Teather's absence was cleared by whips.
"My understanding is that she was away on Government business," said the spokeswoman. "She is a Government minister and supports Government policy.
"On the particular vote, there was overwhelming support for the cap, so there was no need for her to be recalled.
"The fact that she wasn't going to be able to make a vote was cleared and agreed through the usual channels."