AS ONE commentator put it, John Major has put the honours system ''in the hands of the people.'' It remains to be seen whether they tear it limb from limb. In the meantime, the system has also been put in the hands of the people of Hongkong. The British Prime Minister, in a wild and woolly tinker with the way titles and medals find their way to people, has introduced a widely available, ordinary-citizen-proof nomination form on which a member of the public can nominate someone for a gong andsend it directly to a new unit at Downing Street. This supposedly cuts out the crusty vetting layers which lie between People and Queen, and brings the unsung heroes into the royal light.' According to Mr Vivian Warrington, Hongkong's Director of Protocol, there seems to be no reason why Hongkong people with a local passport cannot be sent along this grassroots route to glory, as well as the more formal one through the Governor. The director is cagey about how the established nomination system works. The wand-waving theory of The Royal Prerogative - which has it that Her Majesty can translate anybody into anything at any time at will - makes it difficult to admit to ''systems''. It can be safely assumed that the majority of nominations come from already well-established quarters through a Government vetting system into the lap of the Governor, who then wraps them up with a bow and sends them to the Foreign Secretary, who then readdresses the envelope to the Prime Minister, who then dresses up a Vice-Chamberlain in knee-gaiters, puts him on a bus via Trafalgar Square and sends him down The Mall to the Queen. No official figures exist on the number of nominees who have expired during this process. With only four more New Year and possibly five more Birthday Honours lists to go for Hongkong, there is a strong case for people here who want ''gongs'' and ''handles'' using the nomination forms. How long the system in Britain itself will survive is open to question at a time when venerable institutions are not looking so much disreputable as silly. Mr Major is trying to give a facelift to a ramshackle structure of patronage and rewards which hasnot had as much as a roof-tile replaced since the reign of the Queen's grandfather. Some hope that, with any luck, he'll bring the whole thing down. The social class distinctions in two of the most numerous orders have already been abolished. The Military Medal awarded to ''other ranks'' goes. Now all soldiers will get the officers' Military Cross. Civilians who distinguished themselves at work in overalls once received the British Empire Medal (BEM). Now, along with the white-collars, they too will be eligible to become Members or Officers, or indeed Commanders, of The Most Excellent Order of The British Empire, the order which soaks up most ordinary hopefuls. ''What empire!?'' the cry may go - and that, opponents of the system hope, is where the trouble will start. I asked a quite unscientific spread of Hongkongers, some of them already dignified by the monarch, who they would enter on the new nomination form, and there was no shortage of ideas. Ms Suzy Ho, a vice president of the Bank of America and an American citizen is a dutiful Republican: ''I am not interested or impressed by titles.'' Then she pitched in: ''Gordon Wu deserves something, definitely, and I think they should make a knight ofK. S. Lo of Great Eagle. He is a nice guy. He has good values. He is compassionate and he is understated.'' At Hongkong's top end, these qualities alone deserve a medal. For some, the new nomination system would produce the same people as the old. The recently courtesied Lady Purves, wife of Hongkong Bank chairman Sir William Purves, groaned at my request for a nomination: ''Oh God! I'm hopeless at this sort of thing. Quite honestly, the person who springs to mind is my husband, but he has already got something.'' But not everything. If indeed he could persuade Mr Li Peng to alter the habits of a lifetime and get chatty with the Brits, a peerage would be the least they could give him. Had Sir David Akers-Jones, former Acting Governor, any up his sleeve? ''When I was in Government we were always on the lookout for them - bus drivers with 30 years of saintly service - that sort of thing. Perhaps we didn't get the message across. ''Actually, I make occasional nominations. You send them to the Director of Protocol, who assembles them.'' But if he was going to use the Major form, who would be put on it? ''Two ladies who have given sterling, dedicated voluntary service for a very long time for whom there probably isn't space in the system. No, I'm not going to name them. They'd be embarrassed.'' Architect Mr Hector Cheung has just been made a card-carrying Brit under the UK Nationality Scheme. Who of merit would be put on the form? ''Ha! So somebody actually has to have merit for this?'' he asked with a cynicism which will gain him access to the very best of society in London. Wisely, he began by nominating his boss, architect Mr Rocco Yim, and Ms Dorothy Liu, the local NPC member. ''She represents opposition to everything the Government stands for. She is also one of the few people in Hongkong who causes people to switch channels every time she appears on TV.'' ''Deserves something'' - but what? Instructions with the Major form make it quite clear that the type of award need not be fretted over by applicants. The powers that be would settle that. But that certainly did not stop businessman and China Club creator Mr David Tang, the only Chinese alive who could stand in for the Duke of Marlborough without anybody noticing the difference. ''I'd give an MBE to T. S. Lo. He has a CBE,'' he said. ''Barrister Gilbert Rodway certainly deserves to be more than simply being a Queen's Counsel. I'd recommend him for a baronetcy. Its hereditary, and they should award it with greater frequency. Its more than a knighthood and less vulgar than these life Baronies. ''As a bit of grease, I'd give an earldom to Lu Ping. ''Actually, I think the new way is crazy. Anybody can write in anyway. Five years ago, somebody wrote off to Downing Street on behalf of a chap I knew who was really deserving and I wrote in support. He got it.'' Broadcaster Ralph Pixton, a New Year admission to Membership of the Most Excellent Order was waspish to start with. ''It's not quite so much worth having now they've done away with the BEM. Something is only worth having if it's better than something else.'' He turned to serious thoughts over the form. ''I'd need four copies,'' he decided. ''One each for the blind telephone operators at RTHK, and the fourth for Waling Dasias, the Filipina helper who died on Wednesday under the wheels of a bus, pushing her little five-year-old charge to safety. What a sacrifice!'' What will eventually happen to the Honours system in Britain is of fast-dissolving interest in Hongkong as the day the territory disappears draws closer. In more than a usual hurry all sorts of heroes will want to be remembered. What a flourish it would go out on if this last Governor simply opened the nomination gates to Downing Street! Mr Patten, conspicuously without a ''handle'' where others would have one, seems a man least likely to object to the idea of all-comers having an open, competitive, elbowing, shin-kicking run at the Prime Minister's patronage pot. Hongkong would have a last, dying lunge at the trappings of empire. It could go marching into the Red sunrise clanking with medals. THIS is the chance to nominate the Hongkong person you think deserves an honour - for whatever reason. Friend or foe, saint or sinner, let us know who should win a gong, knighthood or peerage and why. It could be a politician, civil servant, showbiz celebrity, sports star or a member of the public - so long as the nominee has made his or her mark on Hongkong for reasons that may be good, bad or indifferent. The best entry will win a bottle of champagne. Cut out the form, attach it to your entry and post it to Sunday Morning Post Honours Competition, Fifth Floor, Tong Chong St, Quarry Bay. Remember to include your telephone number and address. Entries close at midday on Thursday and the winner will be announced next Sunday.