Skip to main content

Research Repository

Advanced Search

British businessmen and the 'scientific' tariff : a study of Joseph Chamberlain's Tariff Commission, 1903-1921, with special reference to the period 1903-1913

Marrison, Andrew.


Andrew. Marrison


This thesis examines the history of Joseph Chamberlain's Tariff Commission, with special reference to the years 1903-13, when Tariff Reform bulked so large in British politics.

Chapter 1 charts the difficulties that the complex debate posed for Tariff Reformers. In his 'first campaign' Chamberlain attempted to avoid them, at first by avoiding details of his policy, and subsequently by promising the establishment of a 'commission' of businessmen which would draft a 'costless', 'scientific' tariff.

Chapter 2 tells of the backstage moves that led to the formation of the Commission. Its main purpose, however, is to examine the ideology of Hewins, the Commission's secretary and Tariff Reform's leading economic thinker. As a historical economist, he believed that neo-classical economics paid insufficient attention to economic dynamics, and that inductive study would reveal the causes and remedies of Britain's economic 'decline'.

Chapter 3 examines the economic interests of the business members of the Commission. It suggests that fiscal allegiance was less simply a matter of industrial interest than some historians have thought. Often, it was political alignment which determined fiscal allegiance. Nevertheless, broad industrial biases remain, and on this wider front strict determinism remains a valid element in the analysis.

Chapter 4 uncovers the working of the Commission. Its rigid methodology, particularly the 'reduction' process, imparted bias into its operations in spite of Hewins's belief that, since facts were facts and description revealed causation, neutrality on the fiscal issue was unimportant. Furthermore, businessmen aiding the inquiry were self-selecting, another element imparting bias.

Chapter 5 examines the Commission's inquiry into the iron and steel industry, including a study 1n more detail of the 'reduction' process which lay at the core of its method. The Commission's treatment of dumping and of the effect of a tariff on price are given special attention. The chapter concludes by studying the Commission's drafting of a tariff schedule, demonstrating both the economic and the political difficulties encountered.

Chapter 6 shows the Commission's handling of a strongly Free Trade industry, cotton, and its admission that the case for protection was weak. Finding in its quite careful statistical analysis that the British industry was in relative decline, the Commission argued that 'retaliation 'was the best long-term safeguard of the industry's prosperity.

Chapter 7 discusses the inquiry into agriculture. The Agricultural Committee was less cautious than its parent, but even here political considerations and conflicting interests within agriculture put severe constraints on its recommendations. Though improving agriculture's lot an the Tariff Reform package, the Committee probably did not dispel the suspicion amongst many farmers that, compared with industry, they stood to gain little from Chamberlain's policy.

Chapter 8 analyses the Commission's failure, for both political and economic reasons, to draft tariff schedules for most industries it studied, its failure to encompass banking in its examination, and its failure to produce an integrated tariff which harmonised interests between different industries. Propagandist activity, never absent from Commission business, increased as Hewins ventured directly into politics himself. The chapter concludes with a survey of the Commission's activities during the First World War, by which time its original purpose had been forgotten.


Marrison, A. (1980). British businessmen and the 'scientific' tariff : a study of Joseph Chamberlain's Tariff Commission, 1903-1921, with special reference to the period 1903-1913. (Thesis). University of Hull. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Feb 26, 2014
Publicly Available Date Feb 23, 2023
Keywords Political science Public administration Economics
Public URL
Additional Information Department of Economic and Social History, The University of Hull
Award Date Jan 1, 1980


Thesis (38.3 Mb)

Copyright Statement
© 1980 Marrison, Andrew. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

Downloadable Citations