Mr. W. A. S. Hewins
A Champion of Tariff Reform
Mr. W. A. S. Hewins, whose sudden death at the age of 66 at his home on London on Monday night was announced in our later editions yesterday, had figured prominently in all the tariff controversies of the last generation. A pioneer in the movement for tariff reform, he lived to see the return of a Parliamentary majority largely in sympathy with his ideas, and it was on the day of his death that Mr. Runciman announced the emergency proposals which the Government have decided to take to deal with the present abnormal volume of imports.
Born near Wolverhampton on May 11, 1865, William Albert Samuel Hewins was educated at Wolverhampton School and at Pembroke College, Oxford, where he took honours in the mathematical schools,. And at once threw himself into the study and teaching of economics. Following the lead of Dr. Cunningham and of the German economists, he was among the first to abandon the abstract economics of the dominant English school and to treat economics as part of the general history of political and social development. As an Extension lecturer and writer he made his mark first in Lancashire and Yorkshire, and then over a wider field, and by 1895 had attained a position which made his appointment as the organizer and first Director of the London School of Economics an appopreia6te and, as the event proved, a happy choice. The next eight years were, for him, a busy and creative period, and the remarkable growth of the School and its inclusion as a constituent element in the University of London were a tribute to his enthusiasm and driving power. He also held from 1897 to 1903 the Tooke Professorship of Economic Science and Statistics at King's College, and found time for much economic writing, chiefly in current publications or in such works as the "Encyclopaedia Britannica" and the "Dictionary of National Biography."
In 1903 came the turning point of his career. A student of Liste and of Continental economics, as well as of the earlier history of England, he at once dissociated himself from the pontifical letter of ex-communication which 14 of the leading professors and lecturers on economics sent as a sort of encyclical to The Times a day or two after Mr. Joseph Chamberlain's famous speech on May 15, 1903, in which he first tentatively advocated some modification in the direction of Imperial preference, of the rigidity of our free trade orthodoxy. In a series of articles in The Times he supported the Chamberlain policy. It was no doubt these which led Mr. Chamberlain to invite him a few months later to become secretary to the Tariff Commission of business men which he set up in order both to support his campaign with a backing of careful investigation and solid fact, and to prepare the ground for the immediate introduction of a tariff if the campaign should succeed. But the course of events made his work, at least for the time, of no avail.
In January, 1910, Mr. Hewins stood unsuccessful for Parliament at Shipley, and again in December of that year for the Middleton Division of Lancashire, and it was not until March, 1912, that he was returned unopposed for the City of Hereford. He was not a very effective Parliamentary debate, and it was more for his wide knowledge than for his debating powers that Mr. Long, when he went to the Colonial Office at the end of 1916, selected him for his Under-Secretary of State. Hewin's most useful work during the next two years was done on economic inquiries rather than on the floor of the House. In the election at the end of 1918 he failed to secure a seat, and was also unsuccessful in Swansea West in 1922, 1923, and 1924.
For some years he served as chairman of the Empire Development Union, a small organization which, on a reduced scale, carried on the work of the old Tariff Commission and Tariff Reform League, and eventually, about 1926, was merged in the present Empire Industries Association. In 1923 he served on the committee under Lord Milner's chairmanship which was set up by Mr. Baldwin to draft a tariff, but here againt he course of politics frustrated his work. In 1924 he published "Trade in the Balance," a reasoned and comprehensive survey of the economic situation which deserved more attention that it received. A subsequent work, "The Apologia of an Imperialist," published in 1929 was mainly autobiographical and of less importance. For the last 19 months or more he had been busy on a scientific tariff, and Mr. Amery said in the debate on Monday that he had completed it.
A student rather than a politician, a studious researcher into detail rather than a broad and bold generalizer, Hewins was one of the figures which catch the imagination of is contemporaries, but he did valuable work with wholehearted sincerity of purpose, and his place will be missed in the little circle of friends at the Carlton Club, where for many years he had been a well-known figure.
Mr. Hewins became a Roman Catholic in 1914, and was on the Council of the Lingard Society. He married in 1892 Margaret, daughter of Mr. James Slater, of Bescot Hall, Staffordshire, and had a son and two daughters.