He first entered Parliament in the 1959 general election, representing Nottingham West, and is the Conservatives' longest-serving MP albeit with a break in service (1964 to 1966). He is the only current MP of any party first elected in the 1950s, but the gap in his parliamentary service has thus far prevented him from being Father of the House. Should Tapsell seek and win re-election at the next general election, however, he will become Father of the House, as the current Father Alan Williams has confirmed his intention to retire.
After losing his seat at the 1964 general election, he was selected for Horncastle, representing that seat from 1966 to 1983. In 1983, boundary changes moved Tapsell to East Lindsey, which he represented until 1997 when boundary changes moved him to his present constituency. Tapsell was knighted in 1985.
Tapsell is known for his forthright views and is no stranger to controversy. In May 2001, he made headlines during the UK general election campaign when comparing the then German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's vision of Europe to Adolf Hitler's: "We may not have studied Hitler's Mein Kampf in time but, by heaven, there is no excuse for us not studying the Schröder plan now".
Guardian sketch writer Simon Hoggart regularly lavishes praise on Sir Peter, describing him "as the grandest of grandees" (July 2008) and that when in the Chamber, Tapsell rises "to speak, or rather to intone superbly." (Jan 2008)