Blair announces deal on adoption

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Tony Blair last night announced Roman Catholic adoption agencies will not have an exemption from gay adoption rights, but they will have a delay of 20 months before implementing the equality laws.

The Prime Minister, who brokered the compromise in an intensive round of telephone calls over the weekend, appeared to have won over the opposing sides of the Cabinet. The compromise also appeared to have done enough to avoid a damaging clash between the Church and State over the gay adoption rights, which some agencies warned would leave them with no option but to close down.

Mr Blair had favoured an opt-out for the Catholic agencies, who often handle the most difficult adoption cases in placing older children with families. But in a blow to his authority, he was forced to retreat after a majority of the Cabinet publicly opposed an exemption.

Ruth Kelly, Secretary of State for Communities and a devout Catholic, who championed their cause in the Cabinet, made it clear she would not be resigning and described the deal as "a breakthrough that should be welcomed by everyone".

She said giving Catholic agencies until the end of 2008 to implement the equality laws will give them "time to adapt and address how they work". Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary, who led a Cabinet revolt against an exemption, said he was satisfied with the delay although privately he had sought to limit it to six months.

"This is the right outcome because it puts the interests of children first. We reject discrimination in all its forms, particularly when that deprives our most vulnerable children of a stable, loving and secure home," said Mr Johnson.