By RUTH BERRY and AUDREY YOUNG
The Government is likely to introduce special legislation which would validate Harry Duynhoven's seat in Parliament after an arcane law raised questions about the MP's status following renewal of his Dutch citizenship.
The New Plymouth MP was temporarily stripped of his ministerial powers yesterday and Parliament's privileges committee will inquire into the matter today.
The worst outcome would see Mr Duynhoven forced to resign from Parliament and contest his seat through a byelection.
But this seems unlikely, with senior Government sources suggesting last night the best solution would be to change the 150-year-old section in the Electoral Act responsible for the problem and apply the change retrospectively.
National, New Zealand First and the Green Party all said this was the best resolution, although Act NZ leader Richard Prebble said he would take "a power of persuading to do something like that".
New Zealand-born Mr Duynhoven, the Associate Energy and Associate Transport Minister, had dual nationality because his father was Dutch.
But a controversial law passed in the Netherlands in 1995 deprived him of his Dutch citizenship.
The law was effectively repealed in the Netherlands in April and Mr Duynhoven sought to have his citizenship restored.
That happened early last month and Mr Duynhoven notified the Prime Minister's Office.
The Cabinet Office came back and gave him the green light, but he was later contacted by the Prime Minister's Office and told about the Electoral Act stumbling block.
The troublesome section in the act says, in essence, that an MP who sought to acquire citizenship or any associated rights from another country during the time he or she was MP would have to vacate the seat.
Mr Duynhoven said the law could mean anyone with dual citizenship who even inquired about renewing a foreign passport could be forced to resign if the Act was followed.
Before leaving for Korea yesterday, Prime Minister Helen Clark said the specific delegations the MP had in areas such as maritime safety, land transport and civil aviation had been withdrawn.
"He will not be undertaking any action which might later be reviewable," she said.
Mr Duynhoven said while he could not sign any papers or sign off any decisions, he was continuing to do his work and advise his senior ministers, Paul Swain and Pete Hodgson.
"This is one of the biggest surprises in my political career. But it is just a simple technical hitch."
Helen Clark said: "The irony is that if Mr Duynhoven resigned tomorrow because of it, he could run again tomorrow. That wouldn't be a problem. It is the act of acquiring citizenship while you are an MP in between elections."
Mr Duynhoven said he hoped the matter would be resolved within a week or two.
A few MPs with dual citizenship, who he would not name, had approached him concerned that they, too, might be affected by the act.
Mr Duynhoven's lawyer, Sir Geoffrey Palmer, has argued that because he had dual citizenship when elected to Parliament Mr Duynhoven's citizenship status is now the same as it was when he was elected.
"The Dutch law was retrospective and means that I am simply in the same position as I was when I was first elected to Parliament, but a technical question arises and I want to have the air cleared," Mr Duynhoven said.
Sir Geoffrey said the privileges committee could simply decide the MP had the right to sit in the House.
But New Zealand First leader Winston Peters, a committee member, dismissed that suggestion.
"The reality is that we all must abide by the law."
Instead, the law should be changed retrospectively, he said.
Green co-leader Rod Donald and National shadow leader of the House Gerry Brownlee supported that option.
But Mr Prebble said: "This is not a minor technical issue, it is a well-known clause to avoid MPs swearing allegiances to other powers."
Mr Duynhoven remains in limbo in the meantime, since questions also arose about his right to vote.
Mr Duynhoven has a majority of nearly 15,000 in his seat, so it is almost certain he would win a by-election if forced to resign.
By RUTH BERRY and AUDREY YOUNG