Howard told the Daily Telegraph he hopes to see a new leader by the end of 2005, the newspaper reported Wednesday.
A convention is expected to be held before the conference to discuss changes to the leadership selection system. Currently members of parliament narrow the choice to two candidates and party members have the final say, but many say it should be solely MPs who make the choice.
Howard said he wants to see an "open and honest debate" about the future of the party.
Most of the likely leadership contenders have been given senior jobs in his shadow cabinet reshuffle.
Rising Tory star George Osborne has been made shadow chancellor at the age of just 33, prompting speculation Howard wants to see a member of the younger generation succeed him.
The bookmakers' favorite, David Davis, stays on as shadow home secretary.