The chief executive of Stonewall has warmly welcomed the statement from Tony Blair that Roman Catholic-run adoption agencies will not be granted an exemption to the Sexual Orientation Regulations.

Ben Summerskill also questioned the claim by the church that their agencies are superior to state-run adoption facilities.

“We are delighted that the cabinet has listened carefully to what we have been saying and we know that there is huge support for unconditional equality and that is what these regulations, for which we have campaigned so hard, will afford.”

The Prime Minister has decided to allow a 20-month transition period to allow existing agencies adjust to the new regulations, which are due to be laid before Parliament in February and should become law in April.

The regulations outlaw discrimination against gay, lesbian and bisexual people in the provisions of goods and services.

Mr Summerskill said that Stonewall was comfortable with the transition arrangement.

“We had suggested a preparatory period of 6 to 12 months but 18 months is more than enough time for agencies to retrain their staff appropriately.”

Mr Summerskill dismissed claims that the Catholic agencies are the best in the country and said that claims that they would have to close are wide of the mark:

“First the threat of closure was always exactly that there is no reason whatsoever that these agencies need to close over this.

“The claims that they are some of the best agencies in the country has never been fully proven.

“Indeed in the last few years the Commission for Social Care and Inspection has raised anxieties about the way that a range of Catholic adopt agencies deal with black parents and children.”

Last year Mr Summerskill was appointed as a commissioner of the new Commission on Human Rights and Equality which will come into being in October 2007. He said the Sexual Orientation Regulations would benefit millions of people.

“Beyond adoption these regulations will wrap around the lives of millions of lesbians and gay men,” he said.