Kim Howells, Government minister for consumer affairs, has slammed travel insurers for the 'haphazard' way they exclude certain illnesses from cover.

Speaking at a debate at the Commons' sister chamber Westminster Hall, he said consumers had the odds stacked against them because policies are often bedevilled by difficult to read small print.

He said: "The process is, at best, haphazard; at worst, it stacks the odds against the person trying to obtain insurance."

It rankled him that as a mountaineer he has to pay "through the nose for insurance cover". But he thought it "extremely strange" that an actuary decides influenza is more worthy of cover than HIV. He advised consumers to take out comprehensive cover, but warned that even this can be bedevilled by difficult to read small print.

But Association of British Insurers spokesperson Malcolm Tarling said the haphazard comment was unjustifiable. He says: "Most travel insurers generally exclude mental illness, HIV and pregnancy depending on how advanced the woman's condition is."