So, Britain's Queen has announced the annual New Year's Honours List, recognising the "exceptional achievement or service" of British subjects and a select number of foreign nationals. As usual, the List has been received with criticism that it is either too elitist or too populist, too many sportspeople and entertainers or too many civil servants. Without entering these debates, we'd just like to explain a little about the British honours system and how it operates - after all, love it or loathe it, a title from The Queen still carries a huge amount of prestige and that is a sign of a successful awards system. Britain's national honours are recognised worldwide, are respected (mostly) by the country's people, and that motivate and inspire people. For that, Britain's honours system ... we salute you!
Recipients of British honours are selected by The Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister. Recommendations are made to the Prime Minister's office by government ministers, by representatives of organisations, or directly by ordinary members of the British public. The criteria is that the honours are awarded on merit, for exceptional achievement or service. For non-British nationals, recommendations for honorary awards are made by the Foreign Secretary. The range of honours is as follows:
- Life Peers - A life peer becomes a baron and is entitled to sit in the House of Lords. These are the only form of peerages regularly created by the Sovereign and they are held only for the lifetime of the peer (they are not hereditary).
- Knights Bachelor - A knighthood is conferred using the medieval ceremony of the touch of a sword by the Sovereign. Male recipients are referred to as 'Sir' and their wives 'Lady', while female recipients of the honour are referred to as 'Dame' although they do not receive the accolade.
- The Order of the Bath - This order of Chivalry is awarded for service of the highest calibre and is divided into civil and military honours. There are three ranks: Knight Grand Cross (GCB), Knight Commander (KCB) and Companion (CB).
- Order of St Michael and St George - This honour is awarded to British subjects who have rendered extraordinary and important services overseas (or within the British Commonwealth). The ranks within this order are: Knight or Dame Grand Cross (GCMG), Knight or Dame Commander (KCMG or DCMG) and Companion (CMG).
- Order of the Companions Honour - An award given for service of conspicuous national importance. This honour is limited to 65 people a year, who are then entitled to wear the initials CH after their name.
- Orders of the British Empire - The honour of the OBE is awarded mainly to civilians and service personnel for public service or other distinctions. It has a military and civilian division, and the ranks in the order are: Knight or Dame Grand Cross (GBE), Knight or Dame Commander (KBE or DBE), Commander (CBE), Officer (OBE) and Member (MBE).
- Royal Victorian Order - An honour bestowed by The Sovereign in recognition of services to the Royal Family. The ranks of this order are: Knight or Dame Grand Cross (GCVO), Knight or Dame Commander (KCVO or DCVO), Commander (CVO), Lieutenant (LVO) and Member (MVO).
- Royal Victorian Medal - This honour is associated with the Royal Victorian Order and the recipient receives a circular medal attached to the ribbon of the Order. There are three grades - gold, siler and bronze - and the same person may hold more than one grade.
- Royal Red Cross - An honour for people in the Nursing Services, this award has two ranks: First Class (recipients are designated "Members", or RRC) and Second Class ("Associates", or ARRC).
- Queen's Police Medal - Awarded for distinguished service to the police force.
- Queen's Fire Service Medal - Awarded to firemen who have displayed conspicuous devotion to duty.