He was first elected to Parliament in 1968, for Nelson and Colne. He left in 1974 and was returned again in 1979 for Clitheroe. He served as a junior minister under Margaret Thatcher, and eventually rose to Cabinet level becoming Secretary of State for the Home Department in 1989. In 1990 he left the House of Commons and was given a peerage, becoming Lord Waddington. He served as Lord Privy Seal until 1990.