Devolved government in Northern Ireland could function without an executive and should consider continuing as just an assembly, a former first minister has said.

Former Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble, a member of the House of Lords, said Stormont could operate in the same way the Welsh assembly did when it was first formed.

The proposals from the Conservative peer were supported by fellow peers in the House of Lords, while Under-Secretary of State for Scotland and Northern Ireland Andrew Dunlop Dunlop said such proposals would be considered if they avoided a return to direct rule.

Speaking as peers considered emergency legislation to extend talks on restoring devolved government in Northern Ireland, Mr Trimble said the problem at present was forming an executive.

"Well, is an executive absolutely necessary?" he added.

"I would look to what happened with devolution in Wales in its first phase, where there was a corporate assembly without an executive, which functioned and functioned, I think, reasonably effectively."

Mr Trimble said this system operated for six or seven years before the assembly decided to move to an executive.

He added: "That assembly could continue to function and it would be able to move to having an executive the moment that the parties that presently won't nominate for an executive shows a willingness to do so."

David Alderdice, a former leader of the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland, said he supported the proposals.

He added: "Between now and the end of June, we hope there will be agreement, but we won't be hanging on by our fingernails waiting for it."