The Independent newspaper is reporting that the Prime Minister’s wife Cherie is responsible for the row in cabinet over the delay in the introduction of gay rights legislation.

Meanwhile Alan Johnson, who had responsibility for overseeing the Sexual Orientation Regulations while he was Trade and Industry Secretary, is reported to have told MPs that an exemption for Roman Catholic adoption agencies is being actively supported by the Prime Minister.

“They said Tony is the one who has been asking for this exemption,” a senior Labour MP told the paper.

“Another cabinet minister told me it’s all coming from Cherie.”

The BBC’s political correspondent Nick Robinson reported on the Today programme on Radio 4 this morning that Mr Johnson told the Prime Minister last year that there would be no exemptions from the new regulations, which protect gay, lesbian and bisexual people from discrimination when accessing goods and services.

Mr Blair then moved Mr Johnson in the May 2006 reshuffle, and at the same time transferred responsibility for the Sexual Orientation Regulations to the new Department for Communities, and appointed Ruth Kelly as Secretary of State.

Ms Kelly is said to be angry that it is assumed she is behind the proposed exemption for Roman Catholic adpotion agencies.

Like Ms Kelly, Mrs Blair is a practising Roman Catholic, and the Blair’s two eldest sons attended an exclusive Church school.

There are persistent rumours that Mr Blair will convert to Catholicism when he leaves office, rumours fuelled by his attendance at Mass during his Christmas holiday in Maimi.

In what is seen to be a snub to Ms Kelly, a Downing St spokesman said Mr Blair has taken personal charge of “looking for a way through” the current disagreement.

The Roman Catholic Church has said that it will close adoption agencies rather than consider gay couples as prospective parents.

If the exemptions are granted to allow Catholice adoption agencies to exclude gay and lesbian couples, it is expected to trigger resignations in the cabinet.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “This is an issue with sensitivities on all sides and the Prime Minister recognises that.

“This is not a straightforward black and white issue. This is an issue where there are sensitivities on all sides and we have to respect those but equally find a way through.”