Travel insurance companies came under attack yesterday for their "strange" and "haphazard" method of choosing which diseases to cover, described by a government minister as posing "all kinds of ethical questions".

Kim Howells, the minister for Consumer Affairs, said the Department of Trade and Industry was looking closely at how the travel insurance industry operated. At a debate in the Commons' parallel chamber in Westminster Hall, he launched an outspoken attack questioning the way in which insurance companies decided which conditions were "worthy" or "unworthy" of insuring.

He found it "very strange" that insurance companies were deciding influenza, for example, was an illness they were willing to cover - notwithstanding the fact that it was likely to cause someone to miss their holiday - whereas the same firms might not insure against HIV. "I suspect that it poses all kinds of ethical questions as well."

Dr Howells said he had paid "through the nose" for travel insurance. "It is a haphazard process at best. At worst, it stacks the odds against the person trying to obtain insurance." He also urged companies to make the policy details clearly visible, instead of burying them in small print that many found impossible to read without a magnifying glass.