David Cameron has urged the UK's overseas territories and crown dependencies to create public registers showing the true ownership of companies in an effort to tackle tax evasion and money laundering.
The Prime Minister has made the issue of tackling shadowy "shell companies" a key priority and it is expected that laws establishing a public register for firms based in Britain will be included in the Queen's Speech in June.
Anti-poverty campaigners have called for Britain's "tax havens" to follow the Government's lead and set up their own publicly accessible registers, and Mr Cameron said "we should move forward together in raising standards of transparency globally".
The Prime Minister wrote to the leaders of the territories and dependencies such as the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands and Jersey , setting out the Government's plans and urging them to "look closely at what we are doing".
He said public access to a central register is "key to improving the transparency of company ownership and vital to meeting the urgent challenges of illicit finance and tax evasion".
Mr Cameron said: "I am firmly of the view that making company beneficial ownership information open to the public is by far the best approach. It will give businesses and individuals a clearer picture of who ultimately owns and controls the companies they are dealing with and make it easier for banks, lawyers and others to conduct due diligence on their customers.
"It will shed light on those who have provided false information, helping to tackle crime where it occurs and deterring people from providing this false information in the first place.
"And it will help reduce the cost of investigations for tax and law enforcement authorities here and overseas, particularly in developing countries, by making information more easily available to them at the very start of an investigation."
He welcomed efforts already being taken in the overseas territories and crown dependencies, but added: "The rest of the world is watching us closely and a public registry will demonstrate the sincerity of our commitment to improve corporate behaviour and set a new standard for transparency of company ownership."
U nder the Government's plans, firms registered in Britain will be required to supply information on individuals with an interest in more than 25% of the shares or voting rights, or who otherwise control the way the company is run, to a central register held and maintained by Companies House.
At the same time ministers will abolish physical "bearer shares", which belong to whoever owns the share warrant and which can be transferred without trace without the need for the owner's identity to be listed in the company's register of members.
The Government is also looking at imposing restrictions on the use of companies acting as directors of other companies and at better educating company directors on their duties before they start.
Mr Cameron made efforts to increase transparency of company ownership a key part of the agenda during Britain's chairmanship of the G8.