Troy Alstead
Troy Alstead of Starbucks being taken to task by MPs over the coffee company's tax arrangements (Reuters)

Executives from three of the world's most famous corporations - Amazon, Starbucks and Google - were grilled in a fiery encounter with British parliamentarians amid accusations that they were not paying enough tax to the Treasury.

The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC), chaired by Labour MP Margaret Hodge, hosted representatives from the three firms to probe their financial arrangements following recent outcry against corporate tax avoidance, given government austerity and swingeing cuts to public services.

Troy Alstead, Starbucks' chief financial officer, was asked how the coffee giant made 13 years of losses in the UK, the reason it had given for paying just £8.6m in corporation tax during that time.

"You're either running the business badly, or there's some fiddle going on," said Austin Mitchell MP, who sits on the PAC.

Alstead said high rents were eating away at the company's UK revenues and batted away claims that Starbucks was simply exporting its profits from the country so as to avoid tax.

Amazon's director of public policy, Andrew Cecil, told MPs that France's taxman was trying to claw $252m (£142m) from them in unpaid taxes after European revenues were funnelled through Luxembourg.

Cecil said Amazon is challenging the attempt by the French government to claim the tax.

He also angered the British lawmakers by refusing to reveal the value of Amazon's UK sales.

"We have not disclosed those figures ever publicly," he claimed.

Chairperson Hodge described Cecil's avoidance and failure to answer certain questions as "outrageous" and said it was "just not acceptable".

Google executive Matt Brittin, who is the internet search behemoth's vice president for sales and operations in Northern and Central Europe, dismissed the corporation's 2011 UK tax bill of just £3.4m, despite $4bn of sales in the country.

It had actually made a loss in the UK in 2011, said Brittin, and the corporation pays "all the tax that it is required to."

He said that Google was directing European profits through Bermuda and that this was an entirely legal thing to do.

"We are not accusing you of being illegal, we are accusing you of being immoral," said Hodge. Perhaps, taking a swipe at the company's famous motto: "Don't be evil."

The world's biggest economies, led by Britain and Germany, are seeking ways to clamp down on corporate tax avoidance and plug black holes in state treasuries across the globe.