Guidance

How the honours system works

Information and guidance on the operation of the honours system.

How the honours system works

The honours system covers the whole of the UK and all honours are approved by HM Queen. Anyone can nominate anyone else for an honour. Find out how to nominate someone for an honour or award.

The Honours and Appointments Secretariat in the Cabinet Office coordinates the operation of the honours system and processes all public nominations. It provides administrative support to the ten independent honours committees which consider nominations and make recommendations to the Prime Minister and HM Queen.

More information on role and membership of these committees can be found on the honours committees page.

The Secretariat also supports the Committee on the grant of honours, decorations and medals (known as the HD Committee). The HD Committee is the policy-making body for the honours system. It gives advice directly to HM Queen about possible changes to the honours system and military medals policy, including considering new awards. Its members are senior officials in the Civil Service and the Royal Household.

Membership of the HD Committee:

  • Sir Jonathan Stephens (chair)
  • The Principal Private Secretary to HM Queen
  • The Principal Private Secretary to the Prime Minister
  • The Permanent Under-Secretary of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office
  • The Permanent Secretary of the Home Office
  • The Permanent Under-Secretary of the Ministry of Defence
  • The Secretary of the Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood

The integrity of the honours system

Honours are given to reward outstanding service and achievement in a given field or area. As part of the nomination process, we try to minimise the risk that prospective candidates have behaved in ways likely to bring the system into disrepute.

Merit checks

Once an honours nomination is submitted to the Honours and Appointments Secretariat in the Cabinet Office, a process of validation is carried out to assess the strength and credibility of the case. Each nomination is handled differently, depending on what the person has been doing. Typically, views will be sought from organisations like:

  • government departments
  • regulatory bodies like the Charity Commission or organisations that represent professions which are regulated by law
  • HM Lord-Lieutenants, who represent HM Queen around the UK
  • professional organisations such as business or charitable groups

The time it takes to process a nomination depends on which checks are needed and how easy it is to corroborate the information provided in the nomination form.

Probity and propriety checks

We protect the integrity of the honours system by carrying out probity checks with a number of government departments before names are submitted to the Prime Minister and HM the Queen for approval.

As part of this vetting process, HM Revenue and Customs may advise the Honours and Appointments Secretariat about any potential risk posed to HM Government and the Crown by honours candidates, by reference to a low, medium or high rating. For more information, see the agreement between the Cabinet Office and HM Revenue and Customs.

The ACRO Criminal Records Office may also provide advice concerning information held about an honours nominee or an honours recipient. For more information, see the agreement between the Cabinet Office and ACRO.

Forfeiture

An honour can be revoked if it is determined that an individual has behaved in a way that brings the honours system into disrepute. Recommendations to forfeit are made by the Forfeiture Committee to the Prime Minister, and then to HM Queen for a decision.

The Forfeiture Committee has a majority of independent members and is chaired by Sir Jonathan Stephens, on behalf of the Head of the Civil Service. More information on the forfeiture process, and the operation of the Forfeiture Committee, can be found on the Having honours taken away (forfeiture) page.

Handling of honours information

All information about an honours nominee, received from any source, is treated in the strictest confidence by the Honours and Appointments Secretariat and others involved in the assessment and selection of honours nominees. All checks and exchanges of information are carried out in compliance with data protection laws. Information is shared only as agreed in data sharing agreements, and there are processes to ensure that information is stored and destroyed securely.

Freedom of Information

Information about how to make a Freedom of Information Act request can be found on the Cabinet Office GOV.UK page. When the Cabinet Office receives questions about the honours system, it considers whether it holds the information requested. If it does, it applies a public interest test (under section 37(1)(b) of the Freedom of Information Act) to decide whether or not to release information. It will also consider if the information requested includes personal data or has been provided in confidence.

Published 28 December 2018