British Property Federation director-general Will McKee said it would give clients a clearer idea of the performance of the top 50 firms.
McKee believes that a system of performance indicators to be released by the DETR in the next fortnight does not go far enough.
These measure performance in terms of time, cost, defects, safety, profitability and client satisfaction, but clients will not be able to judge firms because contractors do not have to make their figures public.
McKee called for the league tables at a meeting of industry leaders to discuss the DETR scheme on Tuesday, but he said the idea was not well received.
The former chief executive of Merton council in south London said: "We need a carrot-and-stick approach. The move to measure performance and then to improve it is very welcome.
"The industry has co-operated very well to make this happen and I'm sure it will have some success.
"But my experience of the public sector tells me that the most effective way to use measurement data is through the publication of league tables for performance.
There are always reasons for objecting, but the plain truth is no one likes to be bottom
Will McKee, BPF
"There are always reasons for objecting to league tables, but the plain truth is that no one likes to be bottom." McKee said he believed the fear of coming bottom would lead to an improvement in standards.
He said: "Some people are genuinely nervous about this idea – they say you cannot compare performance on some buildings with performance on others.
"But there is too much made of this argument that every building is a prototype. Office blocks are office blocks. Once you are above ground, there may be differences in specification and materials, but not enough to prevent comparisons being made." McKee said BPF members, including the UK's biggest developers, such as Land Securities, MEPC, Hammerson, Slough Estates and British Land, would be willing to be ranked in league tables, too.
They could be compared, he said, according to the number of changes they ordered, for example.
Don Ward, chief executive of the Construction Industry Board, which is administering the government's key performance indicator system, defended the decision not to name names.
"I still think people will want to improve their performance, even if they are not in a table," he said.
Ward said ranking only the top 50 would be wrong because there were 180 000 other firms that would not even be considered.