Lord Wakeham was elected to the House of Commons at the February 1974 general election as the Member of Parliament (MP) for Maldon in Essex. He became a minister after Margaret Thatcher's victory in 1979.
During the late 1980s he served as Leader of the House of Commons, in which capacity he was responsible for the televising of Parliament, and as Energy Secretary (1989–92), where he drew up plans for the privatisation of electricity supply. Following a recommendation by John Major, he was created a life peer on 24 April 1992 taking the title Baron Wakeham, of Maldon in the County of Essex, serving as the Leader of the House of Lords until 1994.
He became chairman of the Press Complaints Commission in 1995, retiring in 2001. In 1997 he was appointed a Deputy Lieutenant of Hampshire. Tony Blair appointed him in 1999 to head a Royal Commission on reform of the House of Lords — the resulting Wakeham Report suggested a mainly-appointed Lords be maintained, with a small elected component.