Published Tuesday, 14 August 2012
Owen Paterson launched the consultation on Tuesday. (© UTV)
The consultation, which will last for 10 weeks, is seeking views on double jobbing, the size of the Assembly, the length of Assembly terms and development of an Opposition.
Mr Paterson said: "I have already signalled my intention to bring forward legislation in Parliament next year to address issues such as providing greater transparency regarding political donations and providing the same security of tenure for the NI Justice Minister enjoyed by all other Executive Ministers.
He said that the legislation will also provide an opportunity to make other changes which "could improve the operation of the Northern Ireland Assembly."
He described as "unusual" the suggestion made by some political parties that the Assembly's current term should be extended to 2016.
"We would only feel able to put the suggestion to Parliament if there was a clear demonstration of public benefit and widespread support. We shall listen carefully to views."
Views are also being sought on how the Assembly could move to a more normal politics of Government and Opposition in the future - yet still remain an inclusive Executive representing all sides of the community.
"Both the Prime Minister and I have made clear our desire to see the institutions evolve over time into a more normal system that incorporates a government and opposition.
"The consultation will enable us to start a debate over whether this is desirable and how it might be done. As we stated at the election, however, any changes will require the agreement of parties in the Assembly."
DUP Deputy Leader Nigel Dodds says the Westminster government should work with local parties rather than launch criticisms at a distance.
He said that his party has, for over a decade, consistently supported a reduction in both the size of the Assembly departments and the number of MLAs.
"There can be no doubt that the public want to see the best value and most efficient Government, particularly in these difficult economic times."
He added: "The public in Northern Ireland want to see parties working together to find agreement on the way forward.
"That is also necessary from the Government at Westminster where it is better to work with local parties rather than launch criticisms at a distance, which unfortunately the Secretary of State has engaged in recently."
Sinn Féin assembly group leader Raymond McCartney echoed the DUP MLA's comments.
"Any agreements on the future operation of the Assembly will be reached by the local political parties," he said.
"This is the second time in the past number of weeks that Mr Paterson has made clumsy attempts to make himself relevant to politics here.
"Sinn Féin will not tolerate any attempts by Mr Paterson or anyone else to undermine the power-sharing and equality provisions which lie at the heart of the successful operation of the political institutions."
All responses must be submitted by the closing date of 23 October 2012.