Fewer than 20,000 egg-laying hens are still in conventional cages in the UK – with the number falling every day, farming minister Jim Paice has said. Paice revealed the figure this week in a written statement to the House of Commons.

Earlier this year, it emerged that half a million hens on 30 farms across the UK were still in conventional cages, despite a European Union ban on the cages coming into force on 1 January.

Responding to a question from Tory MP Karen Lumley about the ban, Paice said: “As of 25 January, less than 0.05% of the total UK flock were still in conventional cages, and the position is improving daily.”

According to the British Egg Information Service, the UK’s laying flock stood at about 36 million hens in 2010.

Paice said the European Commission had written formal infraction letters to 13 of the 14 EU member states that have not complied with the conventional cage ban. The UK was also likely to receive such a letter shortly, “because of our very low level of non-compliance,” Paice said.

Further outlining what action was being taken against non-compliant member states, Paice said: “The Commission has now received action plans from all non-compliant member states, which should contain measures to accelerate compliance. There are to be monthly reports of these plans in Brussels at the standing committee on the food chain and animal health, and we will be fully engaged in these discussions.

“In addition, the Commission’s food and veterinary office missions will be targeted at non-compliant member states in the first half of this year.”

Paice promised that the UK was working hard to achieve full compliance and was keen to see the rest of Europe follow suit as quickly as possible.