Liberal Democrat Sarah Teather was a poor families minister because she doesn't have any children of her own, a Tory MP has suggested.
Former Tory minister Tim Loughton claimed that Teather "doesn't really believe in family".
"The person who was actually in charge of family policy amongst the ministerial team at the Department for Education was Sarah Teather," he reportedly told the Conservative Renewal conference in Windsor.
"Which was a bit difficult because she doesn't really believe in family. She certainly didn't produce one of her own. So it became a bit of a family-free zone. I think that is a huge disappointment."
Loughton later said he would apologise.
"I will of course apologise to Sarah for the comments that have been reported and were certainly not intended or indeed said in that way," he tweeted.
Loughton claimed he had been referring to Teather's failure to produce a family policy, rather than to her family.
Teather today declined to comment, but her colleague Jo Swinson described Loughton's comments as "disgusting".
“Tim Loughton is talking absolute rubbish," the equalities minister said.
"Using someone’s lack of children as an insult is shameful, crass and, frankly, disgusting. It reflects far more on him than on Sarah.”
Loughton and Teather were ministers together at the Department for Education but were both fired in the 2012 reshuffle.
Loughton has since been a persistent critic of his former bosses.
The former childrens' minister claimed earlier this year that important issues facing children had been sidelined by the department.
A senior Lib Dem source said that Loughton "should gather what's left of his dignity and shut up".