The row over Roman Catholic-run adoption agencies and the Sexual Orientation Regulations has flared up again following reports of secret negotiations between the UK government and the Scottish Executive.

The Scotsman reports that Scottish education minister Hugh Henry is in talks with London-based government departments to try and ensure that an informal agreement that would allow Catholic adoption agencies to flout gay rights legislation is honoured.

Last month, the Prime Minister announced that there would be no exemption from the new regulations for adoption agencies.

The rules, which protect gay, bisexual and lesbian people in England and Wales from discrimination when accessing goods and services, are due to come into force in April.

Adoption is a devolved matter, and when the Scottish Parliament voted in favour of allowing gay people to adopt last year, they made an informal deal with the Roman Catholic church that their two adoption agencies in Scotland would still be allowed to refer gay or lesbian people to another agency.

However, discrimination legislation is still a Westminster matter, and the Prime Minister’s decision, which followed a Cabinet row and open rebellion from his own MPs in favour of gay rights, takes precedence over the Scottish Executive.

Last week, a junior education minister at Westminster revealed that: “that negotiations are taking place between the Executive and the powers-that-be at Westminster on the question of exemption.”

With elections to the Scottish Parliament in May, the Scottish National Party have sided with the Catholic church to win votes from the Labour party over the issue.

The Scotsman reports that a source in the Scottish Executive said: “We gave this commitment in good faith and we know that it complies with European human rights laws.

“Hugh Henry is keen to get clarification on whether his commitment is going to stand.”

Calum Irving, of Stonewall Scotland, told PinkNews.co.uk:

“If there were any discussions we would be very disappointed. It would also drive a coach and horses through the principle of equality in adoption, which the Scottish Parliament voted on and approved last year.”

Granting an opt-out from the regulations to the Roman Catholic church in Scotland could have much more effect than in England. The Scottish church provides a much wider range of public services, such as nursing homes and care homes.