The image of old ladies stashing share certificates under dusty mattresses will fade into posterity in the UK today with the launch of a consultation designed to propel share trading into the digital age.

If it is successful, as is widely expected, the Government could make electronic trading the only way to buy and sell shares as early as this year, among other company law reforms.

But there is concern some shareholders may resist.

"The Government is interested in what the old ladies think because that is where they think they will get the negative response," said Giles Peel, director of policy at consulting body, the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators.

Electronic trading has fully superseded holding paper shares in many countries such as France, Italy, India and Australia, but certificates still embody 15 per cent of all UK share holdings across nine million private investors.

"There is a large number of individuals who own paper share certificates who do not sell them very often," Peel said. "This is a tidying up of a market which is largely electronic anyway."

Mr Peel said switching to electronic improves security and reduces the costs and cumbersome processes which go with holding paper shares.