The number of marriages in Wales and England has dramatically fallen to the lowest point on record.

The drop in the number of couples tying the knot showed a 10% fall to 244,710 weddings in 2005, figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show.

Other figures showed that 18,000 civil partnerships took place in the UK since they were introduced in December 2005 and the end of December 2006.

1,600 partnerships were formed each month between January and March 2006, falling to 1,500 between April and September and 800 between October and December.

60% of civil partners were male and they tend to be older than female civil partners.

London has the highest proportion of male civil partnerships with three times as many male partnerships (3,429) formed as female (1,059)

Yorkshire and the Humber was the only part of the country where more lesbians than gay men registered.

A quarter of all civil partnerships took place in London.

16,173 took place in England with 1,131 in Scotland, 627 in Wales and 128 in Northern Ireland.

The average age of civil partners was 47 for men and 44 for women while the overall average age of all partners in 2006 was highest in England (46) and lowest in Northern Ireland (41). The average age was 45 in Wales and 44 in Scotland.

The fall in the numbers of people getting married coincided with a Home Office crackdown two years ago on ‘phoney’ marriages involving foreign nationals.

Non-Europeans using false weddings way of winning the right to stay in the UK was made more difficult following a change in rules in February 2005.

According to the ONS, it was not clear on how much the figures had been affected by the new regulations.

A analysis of the statistics showed the rise was not to last with a jump from 249,000 in 2002 to 273,000 in 2004 which may have been pushed up by fake marriages.

The Office for National Statistics found that the number of marriages taking place in London fell by 35% between 2004 and 2005.

An ONS spokesman said:

“Clearly the effect of the change in the law is one possible factor.”

The Office for National Statistics said the long-term trend in marriage has been falling since 1973.

The ONS said there were 12 marriages for every 1,000 unmarried in 2005 in comparison with 27 per 1,000 in 1851.

The number of marriages which were religious ceremonies had dropped, added the ONS.

84,400 were carried out in churches and other religious institutions in 2005, but 88,710 were held in other venues such as hotels and stately homes.