Foulkes was chairman of Hearts football club from April 2004 until his resignation on October 31 2005. Foulkes resigned in protest at the majority shareholder Vladimir Romanov deciding to dismiss the Hearts chief executive Phil Anderton.
After serving on the Foreign Affairs Select Committee and the Council of Europe, he was appointed to the Opposition Front Bench as an opposition spokesperson on Foreign Affairs from 1983-92, then for Defence from 1992-93. He lost that job after he pled guilty to a charge of assault and of being drunk and disorderly after spending a night in police custody following a reception hosted by the Scotch Whisky Association, resulting in a fine of £1,050. He then served as Joan Lestor’s deputy at Overseas Development from 1994-97.
When Labour won the election in 1997 he was appointed Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department for International Development, where he was Clare Short’s deputy until February 2001, when he was appointed Minister of State for Scotland until the May 2002 reshuffle. From June 2003 to May 2005 he was a UK delegate to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the Assembly of the Western European Union. Foulkes was made a member of the Privy Council in 2002, and stepped down from office at the 2005 general election.
He now represents the Labour Party on the Executive of the Socialist International, member of the Executive Committee of the Interparliamentary Union and Member of the Board of Governors of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy. He is a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee in the Cabinet Office since 2007.
Lord Foulkes is very active on Caribbean matters. He serves as President of the Caribbean Britain Business Council, Chair of the Dominican Republic All-Party Parliamentary Group, Chair of the Belize All-Party Parliamentary Group, Vice Chair of the Trinidad and Tobago All-Party Parliamentary Group and Vice Chair of the British - Central America All-Party Parliamentary Group.
Since his election to the Scottish Parliament, and as the most time-served politician currently serving in Holyrood, Foulkes has been spearheading Labour’s attacks against the minority SNP Executive. For that he has been a regular target of personal attacks by SNP bloggers, whom he branded “CyberNats”. He regularly tables Parliamentary Questions scrutinising the Scottish Government’s conduct, and managed to expose several irregularities, including the entertaining of wealthy SNP backers at Bute House at the expense of the taxpayer, and the preferential treatment given to Stagecoach, whose co-founder Brian Souter gave £500,000 to the SNP, in the Forth hovercraft project .
Foulkes has also been part of a campaign for presumed consent on organ donation .
Foulkes became embroiled in accusations of racism after referring to the Scottish National Party (SNP) of acting in a "xenophobic way. The former Scottish Labour Party leader Henry McLeish called on Foulkes to apologise for the SNP 'racism' claim.